What do you think of the last stranger who sat opposite you? He had a flat nose, light skin and when he moved he rustled and made an unpleasant sound at the back of his throat. You prayed he didn’t talk to you. It is on this curious/repulsive reaction to others that the renowned Manelli brothers, Antionio and Marco, based their illegal alien film, THE ARRIVAL OF WANG.
The action begins with the homely Gaia (Francesca Cuttica), an interpreter, receiving a job offer from a known client. We are immediately advised to have our misgivings as we see him through murky, malformed reflections on his table. Sure enough, Gaia is told that while the job will pay well, it has highly unusual requirements: she must go immediately, and when she agrees to do so, is driven to the location blindfolded for her own safety.
Once there, she is led to into a darkened room to conduct the interview with a Mr Wang, an immigrant who has been caught by the police hiding in a resident’s household. Gaia is disturbed when the interviewer instructs her to take a particularly aggressive line of questioning, yet refuses to tell her of the merits this treatment for which she is a conduit has. When the interrogation intensifies with torture, with Wang unable to provide the answers expected of him, she takes matters into her own hands to right what she sees as an astounding case of racial abuse.
THE ARRIVAL OF WANG is a deft sci-fi that benefits from an extremely able cast, with Cuttica a stand-out as the morally upright and courageous but naive Gaia. She is well matched by Ennio Fantastichini as the investigator whose mercurial slips between professional and playground bully brings a genuine sense of unease to the proceedings. Praise must also go for Li Yong, who is convincing as the largely calm yet insistent Wang. He has a beautifully moderated, controlled, soft voice that suits the role perfectly.
Perhaps the biggest strength of the film, however, is the camerawork and costume, as it is here that the themes of race and our fear of difference are subtly yet powerfully explored. Focus is placed firstly on the desire to present ourselves to accentuate our differences to the extent it causes unease, for example by wearing clothing that connotes the values of other cultures. It then focuses more on the inadequacies of our own cultures, with close-up shots emphasising the bumps and bulges of the human face and the unpleasant natures of our living experiences, from plastic snack food and strip lighting to the stained bowl of a toilet. In doing this, it is a wonderful lesson in liberal values as we are asked to question the very notion of stereotyping and when and how you can and should give trust without prejudice or gullibility. Interestingly, the film appears a lot more complex on this level than the Manetti brothers themselves gave it credit for in mine and Britgeek’s interview with them in which they stated that the message of the film is tolerance – a message that is muddied, but in a most thought-provoking way.
There are however some aspects of the film that don’t quick work as well as they could. The camerawork on the torture scene earned more intensive shots owing to its earlier sensitivity, but this is a reasonably minor issue. The major problem is the soundtrack, a pulsating rock soundscape that even during the action sequences seems more akin to a slam-dunk teen slasher film than to this intelligent drama. It felt like we were suddenly being filmed into a Schwarzenegger vehicle, which defeated what appeared to be the section's point of Gaia’s courage in the light of her slight frame.
Nevertheless, THE ARRIVAL OF WANG is well-directed and has some lovely performances, well-engineered camerawork and importantly a plot that will stay in your head. The ending is a large tonal change but also one that is surprisingly emotive. As for Wang himself, well, he certainly gives genre fans their money shot.
Dr Karen Oughton
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