Sebastian Cordero's Europa Report, nearly lost in orbit, touches down in Chicago on Friday | Bleader

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sebastian Cordero's Europa Report, nearly lost in orbit, touches down in Chicago on Friday

Posted By on 08.07.13 at 04:15 PM

Europa Report
  • Europa Report
A few days ago I received the good news that the sci-fi movie Europa Report would open at the Music Box this coming Friday, in a last-minute addition to the theater's schedule. I'd been looking forward to seeing the film since I learned about it a few months back—it marks the English-language debut of Sebastian Cordero, the talented Ecuadoran director of the serial-killer movie Cronicas (2004) and the black comedy Rabia (2009). I was hoping that the U.S. release of Europa would draw greater Stateside attention to Cordero's other four features—gritty, pungent little movies that feel bracingly authentic in their world-weariness and gallows humor. (I was probably being overly optimistic; even the support of Guillermo del Toro—who helped produce both of the films listed above—failed to make Cordero a recognizable figure here.) Europa had been slated for a Chicago release on August 2, then pulled by its distributor sometime last month. My compliments to the Music Box for not letting it slip through the cracks.

I wouldn't call Europa an unqualified success. Its ambitions clearly exceed its technical resources—the space shuttle where most of it takes place feels a little too basic in its design—and the overearnest dialogue will strike many viewers as wooden. Yet there's a nostalgic charm to these qualities, which harken back to old-school sci-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Robinson Crusoe on Mars. The same can be said for the film's serious attitude toward hard science, which comes through in the conversations about astronautics and space shuttle procedure. Europa Report imagines a manned mission to one of Jupiter's moons, where scientists have discovered signs of life. That sounds like the setup for another Alien knockoff, but the suspense is generally realistic in nature, rooted in the challenges such a mission would entail. Thankfully the actors are more than adept at sustaining the realistic mode—the distinguished cast includes Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days), Embeth Davidtz (Schindler's List), Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium), Christian Camargo (The Hurt Locker), and Michael Nyqvist (the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels).

I wonder if the filmmakers had made a point of thwarting audience expectations. All of Cordero's previous films trade in anticlimax, which may explain why they remain unpopular here despite being accessible as genre filmmaking. Cordero's first and fourth features—Ratas, Ratones, Rateros (1999) and Pescador (2011)—begin like typical crime thrillers, with two-bit drug dealers finding themselves in over their heads, then get sidetracked by observations of character and social milieu. In Cronicas, John Leguizamo's tabloid reporter identifies the serial child killer who's long avoided suspicion just halfway into the movie. He spends the rest of the film trying to pull from TV an earlier report clearing the killer of a crime for which he's been jailed but, ironically, isn't guilty of committing.

Rabia
  • Rabia
In Rabia, Cordero's most exquisite movie so far, the anticlimactic structure reflects a pessimistic, albeit wry, view of class relations. (The title, which translates to Rage, is probably a sarcastic joke.) After he accidentally kills his boss, a Colombian working as a day laborer in Spain hides in the mansion where his girlfriend, another Colombian emigre, works as a domestic. No one finds him—not the police, nor the girlfriend (who's carrying his child), nor her employers (models of liberal upper-class self-delusion that would have made Claude Chabrol proud), nor the employers' pampered grown children. Cordero's suspenseful Steadicam shots of the mansion suggest that something awful will burst upon the scene at any moment, but, with one exception, it never does. How easy it is when you're rich to disregard your problems and let them rot in the attic!

As in Rabia, Cordero shows a knack for claustrophobic mise-en-scene in Europa Report, making the space shuttle seem doomed before the bad stuff even happens. And as in his Ecuadoran films, he deploys a wealth of professional detail to motor along the story. I wonder what Cordero did for a living before he started making movies. He seems to really get the frustration at the core of working life: the more adept you become at your job, the more nagging little responsibilities you're saddled with. I find it refreshing to see a sci-fi movie that acknowledges this.

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