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I've seen the Spanish-language enthusiasm for science fiction in websites and old posters for the Sitges film festival; there were Spanish-language cinema books about science fiction films at least as far back as 1970. Platillos volantes is the first science fiction-themed Spanish film Savant has seen, and it's a good one.
Since hardly anything fantastic actually happens, the film is less sci-fi as much as it is about sci-fi. The subject is the cult of flying saucers, which studies of modern "belief systems" as a new kind of religion. With science and materialism eroding traditional faiths, spiritually hungry people can be excused for "watching the skies" to find something new to believe in.
Platillos volantes (the film's on-screen name; Platillos voladores is the package title) is a brilliant little comedy-drama about the alienation and loneliness that comes from being a certified kook. Juan and José are estranged from their families and ignored by their coworkers. José becomes less popular around the house when, mistaking orders from the aliens, he destroys his wife's television.
Both men leap into the abyss of blind foolishness without ever looking back. José has a lot at stake in Juan's continued belief, so he fakes mental seizures to claim that the aliens are making him write odd messages ("Pax"). Together they assign wild interpretations to the scribbles; flying saucer cultism attracts imaginative people because it allows them to invent all the details of their personal belief - every believer is his own prophet. Juan soon believes in José's crackpot ideas, and becomes convinced that, because he is now part of an interplanetary elect, his body is mutating into a superman. Juan scalds himself to prove it, and persists in believing that he's invulnerable even after he needs medical attention.
We don't need a psychiatrist to understand that these fellows have unconsciously conned themselves in the attempt to find meaning in their lives. José "magically" describes Juan's symptoms of "saucer sympathy," which just happen to be a profound sense of pointlessness and alienation. Saucer worship not only gives them a purpose in life, it provides an ego boost as well. Juan and José print up cards for themselves: "Trackers of the infinite and friends of extraterrestrial intelligences." They are point men and pioneers on a bold new adventure.
In a brilliantly conceived scene, José watches The Day the Earth Stood Still on television (in Spanish, of course) and hallucinates a new scene where spaceman Klaatu personally welcomes he and his buddy into the celestial corps. It's pitiful and funny at the same time. Our boys are elated to discover what they think is a delegation of aliens on the top of a mountain. It turns out to be a group of naked, partying saucer freaks like themselves.
Platillos volantes builds to a highly original and surprising conclusion. It's based on a true 1972 incident in Cataluña about two real men who gave themselves the code names Rasdi and Amiex. Their way of avoiding the pain of reconsidering their chosen faith is stunning but logical, and their loyalty to their beliefs is as firm as that of Joan of Arc. I won't go into details, but they leave a message reading "The extraterrestrials call us, we belong to the infinite."
Platillos volantes is a nice think-piece addendum to the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When Spielberg's Roy Neary elects to become a space cadet and follow the aliens into the infinity of space, he has plenty of evidence to tell him that he's making a rational decision. The pitiful Juan and José must work hard to renew their beliefs, because an uncooperative reality keeps proving them to be idiots. Staying devout is a much harder task when reality puts so many stop signs in one's path. Juan and José may be just a pair of saucer loonies, but they also represent the undying need to cling to a spiritual belief.
Ironically, Juan and José's unquestioning faith is a source of real strength, and much stronger than political belief. They remain true to their space-cadet code even when the police threaten them with "routine" torture. The communist in the next cell lacks their inner resolve and reproaches himself for confessing and naming names. Luis Buñuel would have loved this movie.
The masterfully directed Platillos volantes needs almost no special effects to endear us to this pair of Spanish kooks, a modern Quixote and Sancho Panza. Jordi Vilches is adorable as the mixed-up young man who refuses his girlfriend's offer of sex in order to retain his purity for beings from outer space. Ángel de Andrés López played some minor roles in Pedro Almodóvar movies and is exceptionally good as the self-styled master agent for beings from beyond our galaxy: "These aren't Martians, they're just using Mars as a staging area!"
Color and encoding are good on Venevision's DVD of Platillos volantes, but after the main titles are over the non-enhanced image becomes a pan-scan annoyance, routinely cropping off vital information at the right and left extremes. Two-shots frequently cut both heads in half, with lots of space in between. The movie is watchable (and recommended to science fiction fans itching for something with a REAL IDEA in it) but it's too bad that Venevision has released such a visionary film in such a clueless presentation.
The film is in Spanish and Catalán, with good English subs; a making-of featurette is not subtitled. To find this on Amazon, look it up under the bogus title Platillos voladores. 1
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
1. "Disco volante" is what
a flying saucer is called in Italian, so perhaps "Platillo volante" is a Catalán designation
for a U.F.O. By the way, Spanish saucer freaks don't say U.F.O., they say
O.V.N.I.: "Objecto Volador Non-Identificado." You are now ready to join Juan and José.