The Last Man on Earth: Venice Film Review

The Last Man on Earth - H
An alien landing provides an excuse to talk about the human condition in a funny spoof that swings into darker terrain.

This first feature by graphic novelist Gianni Pacinotti (a.k.a. Gipi) is easy to like in its moments of creative absurdity, but goes farther, injecting extremely dark dramatic elements.

Offering the ironic touch of humor that the other Italian films in Venice competition lacked, The Last Man on Earth gently spoofs the human condition and the banal vulgarity of Italian society in a tongue-in-cheek sci fi script freely inspired by Giacomo Monti’s comic book. This first feature by graphic novelist Gianni Pacinotti (a.k.a. Gipi) is easy to like in its moments of creative absurdity, but goes farther, injecting extremely dark dramatic elements. Perhaps only in the comic book world could the mood swing so lightly between deadpan laughs and two murders. Strong local response to this offbeat Fandango/Rai Cinema production is pretty much guaranteed and could find echoes in other parts of the planet, given careful distribution.  
As the film opens, alien scouts are on Earth to prepare for a general landing, and no one knows exactly what this is going to mean for life as they know it. The Pope has already written an encyclical on the subject. The caller to a late night radio show expresses concern that the top soccer clubs are going to pay big money for alien players who will destroy Italian sport. But most people just calmly go about their business, with one more thing to worry about.

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Hero of the story is the unprepossessing Luca (Gabriele Spinelli), whose big eyes, slit-like mouth and triangular face give him a bit of an E.T. look to begin with; at least, he’s a good representative of human alienation.  An attendant in a bingo parlor, Luca is a lonely soul whose love life is limited to rendezvousing with over-the-hill hookers and spying on his attractive neighbor Anna (Anna Bellato) through plastic binoculars sold door-to-door for alien-watching.

The comedy comes thick and fast in the engaging opening scenes, then slows down to introduce a few pressing issues in Luca’s life. He visits his aging father (played like a tired ghost by film and theater actor Roberto Herlitzka) who is still living back on the farm, 30 years after Luca’s mother abandoned them. His only confidant, however, is a street-walking transvestite, his best and only friend, the good-natured Roberta (Luca Marinelli).

Both these relationships undergo highly dramatic changes in the course of the film, which first-time director Pacinotti confidently folds into the mood-shifting story. For one thing, Luca discovers his father is living with an alien lady who cooks and cleans and plays with the dog, not to mention sleeping with him. The rejuvenated Herlitzka’s sudden good fortune turns to dust when his beloved puts her foot down at his all-too-human faults. This is sad and funny in itself, but it sparks a fist-in the-stomach revelation scene between father and son that hugely ups the ante.  

Even more hideous, if possible, is the end of Luca and Roberta’s friendship in dismaying cruelty and cowardice. While there’s little credibility in his awkward courtship of Anna, who predictably warms to him after a few decent gestures while his wall of psychological defences against women crumbles like a floury cookie, Luca’s intimacy with his trans pal has a strangeness that rings true. It ends in a sickening scene that distances Luca from the audience for the rest of the film.

What’s left are the shards of a human-all-too-human world which it might be good to hand over to enlightened beings for a while. In Anna’s fantasy, the creatures from outer space have come to punish the bad and help the good; the problem is, they don’t make allowance for all the shades of gray in between.

 Known chiefly for award-winning graphic novels like Notes for a War Story and This Is the Room, Pacinotti energizes the film with ironic observation and low-tech design, like the marvelous gag of costume designer Valentina Taviani’s white cotton E.T. suit, demurely clothing the “naked” alien lady in the farmer’s shed.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 8, 2011.

Production companies: Fandango, Rai Cinema
Cast: Gabriele Spinelli, Anna Bellato, Luca Marinelli, Teco Celio, Stefano Scherini, Roberto Herlitzka, Paolo Mazzarelli, Sara Rosa Losilla
Director: Gianni Pacinotti (Gipi)
Screenwriter: Gianni Pacinotti based on a comic book by Giacomo Monti
Producer: Domenico Procacci
Director of photography: Vladan Radovic
Production designer: Alessandro Vannucci
Music: Valerio Vigliar
Costumes: Valentina Taviani
Editor: Clelio Benevento
Sales Agent: Fandango Portobello
96 minutes.