Fantastic Fest Review: Animalia
Lyrical and beautiful alien invasion flick looks inwards
By Richard Whittaker,
1:00PM, Fri. Sep. 22, 2023
Sofia Alaoui's surprising Animalia begins as a startling but subtle indictment of the isolating effects of money.
In the house of Mustapha (veteran actor Mohamed Az-El-Arab Kaghat), a businessman and local fixer referred to even by his wife and daughter as "sir," the servants joke in the kitchen while the family – captured mostly in static long shots – sit in iPad-enhanced quiet.
Itto (Oumaima Barid) is stuck between worlds. It's not just in the way that conversations switch between working class Arabic, the more aristocratic French, and her native Berber. It's her habits that will always set her apart from the family, as indicated in a character-defining interaction with an uncooked chicken. Mustapha's son, Amine (Mehdi Dehbi), married her for love, not her social standing, and now she's the poor Berber tribeswoman who sits uncomfortably at the dinner table of this powerful and judgmental Moroccan family.
Cinematographer Noé Bach and editor Héloïse Pelloquet present these opening scenes as pure social commentary, as Barid expresses Itto's scarcely hidden fear that she'll always be the outsider, both in this world and the one she has fled. Even when she finds herself on the run after the world begins to seemingly untether, she faces presumptions from hotel owner Fouad (Fouad Oughaou) about who this well-dressed woman is, and why she doesn't realize that wandering around alone, in a community dominated by traditionalist men, is deemed inappropriate and flat-out dangerous.
But it's in that unfurling of worlds that Bach and Pelloquet develop Animalia's most startling and captivating images and imagery. The aliens are not scaly or rubbery or swooping around in flying saucers, but something more cosmic, living in the spaces between. The original French-language title, Parmi nous – translated as Among Us – indicates but cannot truly illustrate the captivating and dreamlike interactions between our world and theirs. This is less invasion and more chemical/alchemical interaction, one that forces the devout Itto to reconsider her faith, her cosmology, and her belief in the inflexible rigidity of social standing.
Animalia feels like it fell from the same constellation as Monsters, the career-launching debut of future Rogue One: A Star Wars Story director Gareth Edwards; of course, both are descendants of the greatest alien invasion/road trip fusion, War of the Worlds. At their core, they are never really about the invaders, but about our interaction with them, and our attempts to redefine ourselves – or rather, to reappraise what we think we know about ourselves. Animalia replaces the smoke of pyrotechnics with the warming fog of the cloud of unknowing.
Fantastic Fest screenings
Tues., Sept 26, 5:25pm