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La Antena (The Aerial) (2007)
13th Aug 08
Welcome to an un-named city that is without its voice - when we say it’s without its voice, we mean that literally…No one within the nameless snowy city can talk, having lost the ability courtesy of the bad guy, the all-powerful media mogul Mr. TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta). When they try to speak, instead of sound, subtitles appear.
Mr. TV kidnaps the captivating and faceless singer The Voice (Florencia Raggi), so named because she has one, (it would be a bit silly being a singing sensation called The Voice otherwise wouldn’t it).
The Voice is one of two speakers left, the other being her eyeless son (Valeria Bertuccelli), the latter of whom Mr. TV has no inkling of. Her kidnapping does not go unnoticed, with a TV repairman being witness to the event.
As Mr. TV plans to steal the city’s words and minds as well, the same TV repairman (Rafael Ferro), along with his ex (Julieta Cardinali), their daughter Ana (Sol Moreno) and the eyeless lad set out to put an end to the tyrant’s reign.
Review La Antena is cinematic Marmite; you’ll either love it or hate it. There’s unlikely to be much of a middle-ground but whatever your opinion, you can’t help but admire it.
This nod towards the early days of cinema failed to capture the attention of cinema-goers in its native Argentina but then this is far from your blockbuster fare, looking instead to engage an audience on a more cerebral level dealing with social commentary with a message not dissimilar to Orwell’s 1984 in terms of how the media helps suppress the masses.
The film was the first in thirty six years to be chosen for both the official competition AND the opening of the Rotterdam Film Festival. It went on to win Clarín awards (Spanish entertainment gongs) for Best Film Director and Best Original Film Music and win Best Foreign Language Film at ‘A Night of Horror International Film Festival’. The movie was not just a hit at the festivals but also with the majority of critics, with one claiming it to be “the most original film that I have seen since last year's Pan’s Labyrinth.”
This is writer/director Esteban Sapir’s second feature after 1996’s Picado Fino and dabbling with documentary filmmaking - 2004’s Shakira: Live and Odd the Record - and marks him out as a talent to watch. La Antena evoked memories of sitting down and watching an old black and white movie on BBC2 as a child. Old movie prints tended not to be re-mastered back then, so many of the silent oldies were accompanied by hisses and crackling on the soundtrack and a bordering on fuzzy print.
It made for a soothing and ethereal viewing, quite unlike anything you may have stuck in your DVD player for some while now. Costing an estimated $1.5million – which is large for an Argentine movie – Sapir’s movie goes to show that you don’t need a budget a hundred times this figure, as most Hollywood blockbusters cost, to enthral or come up with something as visually inventive and enthralling as this. It feels at once eloquent and warmly familiar.
Many critics have been keen to point out the masters of cinema that Sapir’s masterpiece pays reference to. There’s everything from Georges Méliès's Le Voyage dans la Lune to Tim Burton styled visuals lumped into the mix, taking in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Luis Buñuel, Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, and even the old Flash Gordon serials. For my money, I’d say that there’s also some David Lynch in there too, check out the song numbers, Lynch has a talent for surreal song numbers, and Sapir apes this brilliantly.
Talking about the song numbers leads nicely into talking about the absolutely divine and pitch-perfect score, a modern tango soundtrack from Juan Aguirre and Federico Rotstein. This is complimented by the evocative and captivating camera work from cinematographer Cristian Cottet that in turn helps director Sapir’s movie play like a fairytale, magical and bizarre, with a political subtext. La Antena is genre movie-making at its very best.