A man dressed in a fox suit time travels to the past. This is perhaps not the premise you’d expect from one of the most poignant and imaginative films to emerge from this year’s Fantasia Festival, but it does embody the peculiar quirkiness of Your Last Day on Earth.
Written and directed by Marc Martinez Jordán, this time travel film explores being trapped in the past to relive memories and mistakes in an endless loop. The time travel in this story entails some wild costumes but requires no complicated contraptions — all it takes is the fox-man (Enric Auquer) meeting with masked “hacktivists” and taking pills for him to awaken in the past. “Today is the day,” he announces with triumph upon his arrival, but the declaration is twinged with melancholy; he has returned to the day he lost his wife.
There is a down to earth quality to the narration, with the extraordinary events of the film being presented as not much out of the ordinary. As the fox-man enters the dreamy world of the past, he remarks with passing amusement at the other “time tourists” he sees. He has one goal: find his wife. He locates her (Sònia Masuda) and might have achieved the impossible in hunting her down, but there is still no altering the past; he knows that it’s only a matter of time — thirty minutes exactly — before a tragic explosion will kill her and countless others.
Appropriate for a tale about the past, Your Last Day on Earth has a vintage feel with a lo-fi 1970s aesthetic. The production design by Alex Maruny draws comparisons to the aesthetic of Wes Anderson with its quirkiness and bright colors, or of illustrated children’s books. The cinematography gives each frame the feel of an old Polaroid — a hazy half-formed memory, at risk of fading away forever. The audience feels the character’s desperation to cling to a memory degrading before our eyes.
Like all the best fairy tales, this one has a dark undercurrent running underneath it — hinted at by Joan Vilà’s haunting tunes. The fox-man may cover his face, but cannot mask his deep anguish — his wife’s death now haunts his every waking moment. His grief is an all-consuming fire that spreads to all his memories of her until nearly everything is burned away.
Time travel stories are notoriously hard to pull off, often running into trouble by creating paradoxes and gaps in logic. Yet this is no ordinary time travel tale, and it sidesteps any potential plot holes or predictable developments while it interrogates whether or not time travel is even possible or whether the narrator is simply fooling himself into thinking that he can relive the past. The final twist, where he is confronted by another fox-man following him, is a surprisingly powerful punch, leaving us to consider what is real, what is a reconstruction, and whether the distinction even matters in our memory.
Low on budget but high on heart and ingenuity, this creative comedy grows all the more somber and heart-wrenching as the fox-man charges on, and the result is an unconventional and imaginative story of how even after trauma leaves us broken, we can make meaning out of the shards. We hope it’s not the last we see from these Spanish filmmakers, for Your Last Day on Earth is a film we wouldn’t mind reliving again and again.