An awkward, otherworldly Italo chap has to face his fear of women and the unfamiliar just when an alien invasion is about to strike.

An awkward, otherworldly Italo chap has to face his fear of women and the unfamiliar just when an alien invasion is about to strike in “The Last Earthling,” the effective, even touching helming debut of comicbook artist Gianni Pacinotti. Loosely inspired by a collection of comics from colleague Giacomo Monti, pic cleverly uses its sci-fi elements to explore people’s fear of diversity and the unknown. A huge advertising blitz and attention-grabbing Venice bow could translate into solid opening numbers for the pic’s Sept. 9 local bow, though its unclassifiable nature and lack of star power might limit it to fest exposure elsewhere.

The film audaciously opens with a minutes-long shot of a starry sky while a radio program is heard in which callers talk about the impending arrival of the extraterrestrials. Callers include a hilarious man worried about the effects of the invasion on Italo soccer. Already in the first shot of his first film, Pacinotti is able to pack in a wealth of information. Not only does he seem to suggest that humor will be a key ingredient but also that he’s more interested in people’s reactions to the aliens, and what this reveals about the people, rather than grandiose special effects or even the aliens themselves.

Story proper kicks off when the camera fixes its gaze on protag Luca (Gabriele Spinelli), a small-town schlemiel who works as a bingo-hall waiter. He’s afraid of the opposite sex to the extent that he doesn’t even feel comfortable around a prostitute (Ermanna Montanari) he visits who works out of a secondhand furniture store.

At work, he’s either ignored or treated badly by his sex-obsessed colleagues. Ironically, the only acquaintance he feels vaguely comfortable around is Roberta (Luca Marinelli), a transsexual who works the streets.

A visit to his aging and unkempt widower father (Roberto Herlitzka) in the countryside and a dead cat Luca finds in the futuristic apartment complex he lives in set the stage for the arrival of two new women in his life: Anna (Anna Bellato), a cute neighbor, and a petite femme (Sara Rosa Losilla) who takes up a relationship with his dad.

It’s clear both men have issues with women, and it eventually emerges that the issues of father and son are related. But Pacinotti, who also wrote the screenplay, is in no hurry to get to the (psychologically slightly pat) denouement; he’s more interested in milking the main metaphor for all it’s worth, suggesting people can be aliens to one another.

Though the storyline involving Roberta could have been a bit sharper — its view of where the transsexual stands in relation to Luca, women and the extraterrestrials is somewhat muddled — the analogy works beautifully in the father’s story. Strong, emotionally true acting by Herlitzka and Spinelli ensures that the more fantastical elements become grounded in a reality that is not only insightful but actually moving.

Especially in the first half, Pacinotti, aided by the work of production designer Alessandro Vannucci and d.p. Vladan Radovic, uses the camera and locations to carve out space in beautiful and surprising ways that underline Luca’s separateness from the others. Valerio Vigliar’s score doesn’t have an underlying theme but supports individual scenes well.

Press book refers to the pic as “The Last Man on Earth.”

The Last Earthling

Italy

Production

A Domenico Procacci presentation of a 01 Distribution release of a Fandango production, in association with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello Sales, London.) Produced by Domenico Procacci. Directed, written by Gianni Pacinotti, inspired by the comic "Nessuno mi fara del male" by Giacomo Monti.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Vladan Radovic; editor, Clelio Benevento; music, Valerio Vigliar; production designer, Alessandro Vannucci; costume designer, Valentina Taviani; sound (Dolby Digital), Alessandro Bianchi. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 8, 2011. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Gabriele Spinelli, Anna Bellato, Luca Marinelli, Teco Celio, Stefano Scherini, Roberto Herlitzka, Paolo Mazzarelli, Sara Rosa Losilla, Vincenzo Illiano, Ermanna Montanari.

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