An elderly couple enjoys an evening in front of the TV when their electricity flickers and they hear a thud. When they investigate the sound, they discover a naked man has somehow “landed” in their kitchen.
But this is no ordinary man. His name is XZ3 and he is an alien from another planet where the feeling of love no longer exists. He has taken on a human form and has been sent to Earth to investigate this forgotten emotional mystery. But the feeling eludes him…until one sublime moment when it all clicks into place.
Written and directed by Emanuele Daga, this charming, tender-hearted short sits somewhere between science fiction, romance and comedy. Much like its titular character, its surfaces are deceptively simple, as is its clean, straightforward visual approach. But with its unabashed open heart, philosophical inquiry and sly sense of whimsy, it exerts considerable charm as it ponders the mysteries and magic of love.
The storytelling has a studied, wry tone, maximizing both comedy and philosophy with the perspective of the alien looking at the strange follies, rituals and mores of human beings. It observes the alien’s explorations and examinations as he acclimates to the world around him, as he absorbs languages, media and music with his extraterrestrial abilities, much to the befuddlement of his senior hosts.
The writing finds flourishes of wit and irony in many scenes, and the pacing clips along with entertaining rhythm, while the sci-fi elements are handled with a lightness of touch, economically and deftly accomplished with touches of sound design and performance. But the overall feeling is of genuine warmth, whether it’s in how kindly XZ3 is embraced by his elderly hosts (who adorably never question the idea of aliens in the first place) or how earnestly the alien approaches his studies of love.
Actor Carlo Luca De Ruggieri as XZ3 plays the alien with both wan remove and an almost clinical sense of curiosity. Both of these intertwine to make for a fabulously deadpan demeanor, especially juxtaposed against the effusive but confused kindness and generosity of his host couple, played with terrific sweetness by actors Giuseppe Laudisa and Lucia Batassa. Their deep affection for one another is the first example of love that XZ3 encounters, but as the alien absorbs famously tragic love stories like The Sorrows of Young Werther and Romeo and Juliet, his view on love becomes more tortured. But it takes a fortuitous encounter with the music of Romantic composer Liszt — and the sight of a lovely young woman — for XZ3 to fulfill his mission.
“XZ3” ends on a poignant, wistful note, if not quite an unabashedly romantic one — one that gives enough of a sense of “passionate tenderness” that the alien was studying, but not quite enough to experience the feeling to its fullest expression. In that sense, the film beautifully captures the elusive mystery that is love in the first place: how we glimpse just enough of its magic and enchantment to keep longing and chasing after, in hopes of capturing its ultimate fulfillment.