Film Review: For My Alien Friend (2019)

It is an inherently human idea to try to search for the unknown. Most other creatures stay put where they are comfortable, but humans have a strange habit of attempting to connect with things they do not understand or have any knowledge of. In For My Alien Friend, filmmaker Jet Leyco tries to connect with a titular alien friend through a series of videos cut together to form a kind of coherent narrative. The film is designed to feel like a time capsule filled with pieces of the unnamed narrator’s life, which gets broadcast into the unknown.

Throughout the entirety of For My Alien Friend, it is difficult to understand where the story would be seen. For most films this is not very important, but this film is explicitly a direct message for someone to find. The narrator continuously addresses the viewer as “you” and expresses hope in connecting and communicating with other beings of life, aliens. He documents and speaks about his family, his friends, life in the Philippines, political disruption, and religion. Most of the time the visuals and dialogue are powerful and rather impressive, but there are moments where the commentary seems to fall a bit flat. These occur mostly when the scene has little to no exposition.

For My Alien Friend is for the most part, successful in communicating its narrator’s perspectives to the audience. The words people have spoken previously often resurface in later moments of the film with a new or more nuanced meaning, and unrelated quotes often overlap into one large mass communication. In keeping with the theme of the film, this does a very good job in communicating the chaotic nature of people to the unassuming “alien friend”.

One of the more interesting parts of For My Alien Friend is the difference in quality of each sequence. Leyco chooses to continuously juxtapose high quality and professional shots of landscapes such as mountains and the ocean, against a series of candid and handheld shots of the narrator’s documentation, which seem to all be made without too much planning. This sense of spontaneity is fabricated, but is very effective in stitching together a very honest and sincere atmosphere. The stark contrast of quality within the film is considerably noticeable, but not in sacrificing the film’s pace or message. On the contrary, it actually feels very realistic (as far as a message to aliens expressed as a movie can be). The high quality landscaping shots seems to be directly reflecting on the much more candid shots made by the narrator’s handheld camera.

Leyco relies heavily on the act of reflection to intrigue his audience. He uses parallels to the July 16, 1969 moon landing, constantly weaving in quotes from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the NASA space team on land. The excerpts of the astronaut's voices is in constant reference to outer space, and the discovery of the unknown. For My Alien Friend not only starts out with references to the moon landing, but comes full circle and returns to them near the end. They are first framed with a sense of hopefulness, but when the story comes to a close, it feels a lot more melancholic.

For My Alien Friend’s main protagonist is it’s narrator. He speaks to the viewer about his life, shows videos and images of his family and friends, all the while communicating through a grizzled sounding radio. The narrator is seemingly objective about his story, often purely describing who someone is and what they are doing. However, as the film goes on, Leyco injects the narrator with a sense of despair. “Are you there?” he starts to ask the viewer. It’s a feeling that is easy to relate to, even when it is expressed to an unseen alien friend. It’s also very self-referential and feels like the question is somewhat aimed at the immediate viewer. Are you still watching the movie?

It often feels as if the narrator is recounting his life for two reasons. Firstly in an attempt to communicate with other beings of life, but secondly to remember it for himself. The entire film is a journey into the narrator’s, and by extension Leyco’s life, with the references to his mother, two sisters, nephew, and previous girlfriend being at the forefront of the most memorable scenes. It is an aimless roam into Leyco’s memories and life and a reflection of who he is.

For My Alien Friend makes it a point to present political ideas. While there are a few moments in the film where this is effective, for the most part they lack a sense of importance. The most powerful parts of the film rely specifically on the relationship between the narrator and the subject matter, whether this be a person in his life, his view of religion or something else. While it is made clear that the political issues are prominent in the Philippines, it is vague as to how the narrator fits into that story and why it is included in the film. That’s not to say that the images aren’t powerful, it just seems like it could have gone further and been even more impactful.

The film also features many characteristics of modern online life. As the story progresses, the film slowly becomes saturated with pop-up ads, which infiltrate the screen. Watching it on a Windows computer surprised me multiple times, because of its use of the Windows 10 notification pop-ups and sounds. I genuinely thought I was receiving some strange messages. Some pop-up panels are barely on the screen long enough for the viewer to even register what they say, so they give an intense feeling of being overwhelmed. Personally, it also reminded me of malicious internet activity, since many of the ads were sexually provocative or referenced surveillance.

There are two instances where the story is interrupted to ask the viewer a question. The first instance on the boat to ask whether they want to “continue watching this story” and second to ask what the viewer thinks the item on screen is “drugs”, “sand” or “sugar”. By asking the viewer specific questions, it makes you feel very involved in the story at that particular moment.

By far the most memorable part is Leyco’s creative way of tying the entire film to the sea. He starts and concludes with a series of sea-related shots and narrations, and the most noteworthy shots are the ones which take place in boats or on the ocean. Here, the aim of connecting to an alien friend is also the most prominent. Water is often seen as a sign of life. And by utilizing visuals of water, both high quality and low quality but all beautifully captured, Leyco drives home the idea of searching for something new and communicating with the unknown.

For My Alien Friend seems like a film fit for a time where searching for outside intelligence is closer than ever. Not only does the movie effectively capture the fragments of the narrator’s life and his futile attempts to communicate with the unknown, but you also get the feeling that it is Leyco’s personal self reflection, a timeless piece of art about the state of his life when the movie was made. Which, in the end, has accomplished its goal in connecting with a stranger.

Review by Valerie Tan

For My Alien Friend had its world premiere at QCinema DocQC Documentary and has subseuqnetly screened at the 7th Salamindanaw Asian Film Festival (Opening Film) and the 12th Taiwan International Documentary Festival (Asian Vision Competition). It was also listed as one of the best Filipino films of 2019 by Rappler and CNN Philippines.

Follow the film's latest developments on its Facebook page here

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