We Are Living Things Image

OPENING IN NEW YORK! Although UFOs are prominently mentioned in director Antonio Tibaldi’s We Are Living Things, labeling the film as science fiction would be a stretch. Instead, it is a sparse parable about the plight of immigrants in the United States, as well as a love story between two outcasts. The affecting feature uses the genre to emphasize its central metaphor, drawing subtle parallels between aliens from outer space and aliens right here, next door.

“You’re the only living thing I’ve ever felt connected to,” says Solomon (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), an illegal alien from Mexico City, to Chuyao (Xingchen Lyu), who “was taken” from Tonglu, China. These lost souls reside on the fringes of society. Chuyao, after experiencing an out-of-body pseudo-abduction as a teenager, now relives her experience by allowing a pimp to exploit her – the bastard even installs a tracking device in her neck. Solomon’s mother left him when he was a child; he’s convinced aliens kidnaped her.

Our two central characters come together via a kidnapping and the revealing of a corpse and become bound by their traumatic experiences and perhaps a very real alien presence. After all, what’s up with those mysterious magnetic stones that both of them own? “I don’t know you,” Solomon says, “but I know you believe they exist and that they communicate with us.” The final twenty minutes of We Are Living Things are arguably the most resonant, with Chuyao and Solomon embarking on a quest to find answers in middle-of-nowhere Arizona, where they meet Constance (O-Lan Jones), another UFO fanatic.

“…come together via a kidnapping and the revealing of a corpse…”

Although the central duo barely speaks each other’s languages, like the stones they possess, they attract each other. Xingchen Lyu is a soulful screen presence, with eyes that seem to directly express emotions, unfiltered. Chuyao believably morphs from a broken-hearted victim to someone who’s achieved a form of salvation and hope. Jorge Antonio Guerrero, so impressive in Roma, shines as the introverted Solomon, guided by the demons of his past.

Tibaldi has a light but deft touch when it comes to handling tricky sequences, whether it is a nail salon being invaded by homeland security, the outrageous act Chuyao is forced to perform for her pimp, Solomon inspecting her with a metal detector, or the penultimate confrontation with desert hicks. Cinematographer Luca Bigazzi captures the intimacy of their relationship, the claustrophobia of the surroundings, and then the vast, desolate freedom of the desert.

We Are Living Things unravels gradually, methodically. It could’ve used a bit more tension and slightly higher stakes, for the silences in-between its words aren’t as weighty as the filmmakers seem to have intended. Yet it’s refreshing to see a love story rooted in reality, despite the sci-fi undertones. Moreover, it’s a reminder that we are all, indeed, living things and should be treated as such.

We Are Living Things screened at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

We Are Living Things (2022)

Directed: Antonio Tibaldi

Written: Àlex Lora, Antonio Tibaldi

Starring: Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Xingchen Lyu, O-Lan Jones, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

We Are Living Things Image

"…Tibaldi has a light but deft touch..."

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