Review: The Prophet and the Space Aliens
by Marta Bałaga
- Yoav Shamir encourages viewers to look up and face the close encounters of the third kind
Although the titular aliens are sadly nowhere to be seen, Yoav Shamir’s entertaining The Prophet and the Space Aliens [+see also:
film profile] – shown online in the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival’s Feature Length International Competition – partly delivers on its mouth-watering promise. Following around “the only prophet on Earth”, his documentary has plenty of fun facts to spare, while introducing newcomers to the world of Raëlianism – a religion founded by Raël, né Claude Vorilhon, and based on the claim that it was a race of aliens called the Elohim who created all life.
Asked to spread the word after their first encounter in the 1970s, as recounted on his website, which Cineuropa swiftly checked out, “Raël almost developed a stomach ulcer before finally deciding to give up his much-loved career as a sports-car journalist and devote himself fully to the task.” No wonder he makes for a jaw-dropping figure here, married to an ex-ballet dancer and surrounded by Raël’s Angels who, just like Victoria’s, are chosen based on their looks, as aliens like to “be surrounded by individuals of great physical beauty”. Dressed in all-white ensembles like Backstreet Boys in “I Want It That Way”, he surely dreams big, also about a movie that would finally boost the movement. “Something between Star Wars and the Bible and The Ten Commandments,” he says, proving he clearly hasn’t heard of the 2000 stinker Battlefield Earth – based on a novel by the founder of the Church of Scientology and compared by critic Roger Ebert to “taking a bus trip with someone who has needed a bath for a long time”.
It’s a lot to take in, and most of it is just bonkers. But although Shamir lacks certain skills – in this case, the material is undeniably stronger than its director – and clumsily attempts to inject himself into the story, he also makes a few interesting observations. There are aspects to Raël’s teachings that simply make people happy, it seems: from sexual fluidity and freedom, with individual preferences announced via colourful ribbons to save everyone time, to the strict “no violence” rule. He is quoted encouraging African people to go back to their roots and traditional beliefs, too, and at one point starts a hospital for the victims of female mutilation practices, financed via “clitbox” and operating on the simple premise that when you have an orgasm, you put in some money.
Once Raël starts to belt out Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”, one half-expects Will Ferrell to suddenly jump out of a corner and merrily join in. But there is darkness to the ridiculousness, as once Shamir starts digging into his past as a bullied French kid with an absent father, patterns emerge – as well as entire storylines lifted straight from comic books. Not that it seems to matter that much. “That’s why we were made, to be happy,” he teaches his grateful followers, who give him 10% of their income, stressing that unlike in organised religions, a) it’s a lot of fun and b) they feel like they are changing the world, arguing that if the son of a carpenter was chosen once, why not an aspiring singer-turned-race car magazine founder? Which actually seems to be a fair point.
The Prophet and the Space Aliens is an Israeli-South African-Austrian co-production staged by Tanya Aizikovich, Steven Markovitz and the director himself for Yoav Shamir Films (which is also handling world sales), Big World Cinema and WILDart Film.
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