Antonio (Tony Zuleta) is an amateur ufologist convinced he has seen and captured on video unidentified flying objects, beliefs that aren’t shared by the experts he approaches. He teaches his son how to operate the video camera and what to look for in the sky and then, with the help of an aeronautical engineer, sets out on a trek to find evidence that will validate his beliefs.
In this understated, thoughtful faux-documentary Argentinian director Daniel Rosenfeld takes the subject of UFOs and extraterrestrials, traditionally the realm of pulp fiction and conspiracy theorists, and uses it to examine the nature of faith and the validity of different belief systems. Following a committed ufologist, Antonio (Tony Zuleta), and his mission to prove his UFO theories, Rosenfeld doesn’t encourage us to ridicule but rather asks us to believe.
To the Centre of the Earth certainly doesn’t give up its secrets too readily. With little to identify its plot it is some way into the film before Antonio’s fascination with extraterrestrial life is made fully clear. We see him teaching his son to operate his video camera among the hills of their home, a scene that is touchingly revisited later in the film. Soon Antonio moves on to trek deep into the mountain ranges in search of answers, with an aeronautical engineer friend who thinks he has all the gadgets they need to find them. Rosenfeld’s photography of the Argentinian mountains is stunning, the grand, desolate setting for Antonio’s vindication, the landscape of his soul. His hike is arduous at times – for both him and the viewer – yet patience is rewarded with a daring, breathtaking finale that challenges all of our assumptions about what has gone before.
Antonio’s mission seems to be carried out with a mournful air, as if he is searching for something long lost. His eyes glaze with tears at one point as he gazes out over the landscape; we can only guess at what drives him to such sadness. Although he’s looking for evidence of aliens his focus is increasingly terrestrial, the film’s title alluding to his theory that alien craft fly deep into the earth through hidden cave entrances. It is not through looking up to the sky that Antonio will find answers but in digging down into the dirt, finding the divine in the mundane, the spiritual in the mortal. Maybe it’s Antonio’s own mortality laid bare in front of him that brings him to tears.
It is easy to believe in Antonio, for Tony Zuleta plays his character with all the warmth of a proud father and the determination of a man who knows that it’s the rest of the world that’s wrong. On the surface, Rosenfeld’s film seems narratively threadbare but its inquisitive themes linger long after the credits have rolled. The documentary realism places us in a strange position as viewers as it becomes difficult to determine where truth and fiction overlap. By planting this seed of ambiguity To the Centre of the Earth asks us what we’re ready to believe and how firm our convictions are. It may move slowly but that is because it is contemplative and deliberate, not because of any narrative lethargy. It is a quiet film but its thoughts echo through the universe. If Antonio is right, there is an answer out there somewhere, you just have to know where to look.