Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Fantastic Fest director returns with mash-up

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Nacho Vigalondo might break into song at any moment.

Perched in a karaoke room upstairs at The Highball, he promises that every answer in the interview will be rendered in song. He's joking, of course. But those who know the Spanish director might not put it past him.

Since winning the AMD Next Wave award for his feature debut, "Timecrimes," at Fantastic Fest in 2007, the bearded and jocular Vigalondo has become a staple at the country's preeminent genre film festival.

He returned last year with his latest, "Extraterrestrial," which opens at the Alamo South today.

Vigalondo has attended Fantastic Fest every year since his breakout win and always finds himself in the midst of the madness. From midnight screenings to unhinged appearances at the Fantastic Debates and, yes, alcohol-fueled karaoke parties, Vigalondo is a constant presence.

But his love of Austin and its fest extend beyond the secular realm. To Vigalondo, the annual pilgrimage to Texas is spiritual, and something of a homecoming.

"If movies are my religion, Fantastic Fest is my holy week, and the Alamo Drafthouse is my church. I was born here," Vigalondo said.

Before he unveiled his bizarre and inventive time-traveling film at the Drafthouse, he said that nobody to whom he had shown the script or unfinished film seemed to like the movie. He feared "Timecrimes" might end his feature filmmaking career before it started.

"The first time I realized ‘Timecrimes' would work and be liked by audiences was here at the Alamo," Vigalondo said. "That was like a whole rebirth."

One wild weekend later and Vigalondo was on his way to international notoriety as a genre filmmaker worth watching.

While "Extraterrestrial" eschews the confounding time-traveling elements of "Timecrimes," Vigalondo believes that the his latest is equally complex. The complexity, however, all derives from character.

In "Extraterrestrial," the extremely hung-over Julio and Julia are recovering from a one-night stand and realize that they have much bigger problems than remembering each other's names. A spaceship has moved over Madrid, and when Julia's boyfriend returns to find Julio in the house, the mysterious alien ship takes backseat to a frantic game of deception.

The film uses the spaceship to instigate and heighten the drama of "Extraterrestrials," but the story continually returns to the comedic shell game with the truth. Vigalondo says he enjoys blending genre elements with a simple human story.

"The same way ‘Soylent Green' is a detective story, ‘Planet of the Apes' is an adventure film, ‘Star Wars' is a Western, ‘Alien' is a horror story, ‘Blade Runner' is a thriller. For me, all of those movies are science fiction, but at the same time they are dealing with another genre," Vigalondo said. "I think in this case it is the same. It is science fiction, but at the same time it's a romantic comedy."

Fans expecting a movie in the exact same vein of "Timecrimes" expressed some dismay after "Extraterrestrial" made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. The romantic comedy wrapped inside a science-fiction construct was not what they were expecting or had hoped for from the director who showed such promise with his first film.

Vigalondo realizes that some fans of his earlier work might have been disappointed, but by following his own vision he is able to play with expectations in a way that offers him a creative freedom in the future.

"The Coen brothers made ‘Blood Simple,' then they made ‘Raising Arizona,' then they made ‘Miller's Crossing,' " Vigalondo said. "Now, no matter what the Coen brothers do, everyone is going to accept it because it's a Coen brothers' film. No matter if they do ‘No Country for Old Men' or ‘Burn After Reading,' it's the Coen brothers. You are not asking the Coen brothers to be funny again because they can be abstract."

Yeah, but can they sing?

Contact Matthew Odam at 912-5986. Twitter: @Odam