2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Ten – EXTRA TERRESTRES
Day ten brought rain to Milwaukee and the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, but it cleared away in time for the screening of EXTRA TERRESTRES at the Times Cinema. Judging the crowd, it didn’t appear that the rain earlier dampened any spirits. And, if the weather did dampen any spirits, then EXTRA TERRESTRES itself with its pervasive sunniness was surely an antidote.
There’s kind of a classic family structure to EXTRA TERRESTRES where the family patriarch discovers that his traditional understanding of the family doesn’t match the reality. Astrophysicist Teresa returns to her family home in Puerto Rico after seven years away to announce her upcoming marriage right when the family poultry business is being beset from all sides. Teresa’s sister is in love with a mechanic instead of the well connected men that could support her and her apparently autistic son in the manner the father expects. The mother disappears regularly on evenings. Teresa’s brother is carrying on an affair and trying to carry on the family tradition of running a business. Teresa’s nephew has become attached to a pet chicken when he’s not putting together science experiments. And, to top it off, Teresa needs to come out to her family.
There’s always enough going on in EXTRA TERRESTRES for it to feel energetic and full of life. The Puerto Rican setting itself injects a lot of beauty and sunshine into the film so that while this material could be dealt in a heavier way, the film is always full of light and warmth. There’s a little bit of screwball comedy to the proceedings as you wait for everything to come out into the open. And a lot of empathy as the film gives almost every individual a chance to express themselves, their dreams, and their desires. As an empathy machine, it’s very winning. As directed by Carla Cavina, the film really sings and looks a lot more expensive than its apparent modest budget suggests.
I wish I could feel as strong about the overall plot of EXTRA TERRESTRES as I do about the tone and characters of the film. The film is saying something about how we have to change to keep up with the times, but the plight of the poultry business seems to hinge on possibly corrupt government bureaucracies and ruthless business rivals. The private side of EXTRA TERRESTRES has no villains, but I’m not sure about the business plot of the movie. There are times when I felt as if we were switching between two different movies that were welded together awkwardly. And, I really have no idea how the experiences of the nephew are supposed to tie together with the greater themes.
The good thing is that the business side of things never seems to have much for stakes, so it’s easy to view it as a distraction from what really matters. When it focuses on the characters, the film is warm and alive. I came out feeling very good about life in general and that people can change and families will pull together. EXTRA TERRESTRES is a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word.
It’s also worth noting that Milwaukee Film is donating all the proceeds from EXTRA TERRESTRES to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico and Mexico. That’s the cherry on top of it just being a good film.
EXTRA TERRESTRES will be showing twice more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The next screening is Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 1 pm at the Avalon Theater followed by a final screening on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm at the Times Cinema. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.