Esteban Sapir's silent, surrealist Argentinean production La Antena / The Aerial had its Canadian premiere to a very appreciative audience at the Fantasia Film Festival (website) on July 4. From beginning to end, La Antena dazzled the eyes and stirred the emotions. As the credits rolled, everyone began clapping; the filmmaker was not in the audience, but everyone was so pleased by what they had seen they couldn't help themselves. I'm sure some of them felt like jumping up and down, and running circles around the auditorium while yelping shouts of glee. Or at least that's what I wanted to do. It is rare that a film can be so fresh and new, and yet feel so well-known and nostalgic.
La Antena is set around The City, where everyone has lost their voices. The City's denizens are nameless and hopeless, completely in the hands of Mr. TV – the television studio president who uses hypnotic programming to get viewers to buy his products: round cookies with hypnotic icing spirals. Mr. TV's main tool is a woman, known as The Voice, who (as her name implies) still has a voice. Her singing lulls viewers into a consumerist trance. She does it because Mr. TV has promised to give a pair of eyes to her child, a blind boy who can also speak. The eyes are to be delivered to the Voice's house, but instead it gets mistakenly dropped across the street into the home of Mr. and Mrs. X and their daughter Ana, thus bringing Ana and the blind boy together.
In this city, people can still communicate by mouthing words. (The intertitles interact with the players, sometimes hiding behind a “shushed” finger, or growing bigger with enthusiasm, or pushed away by an angry conversationalist.) The blind boy, for his part, is able to “read lips” by pressing his fingers to people's mouths as they speak. However, the use of words is being threatened as Mr. TV uses The Voice to steal them – thus giving him complete control of The City. When Mr. X learns of the plan, he and his family, along with the Voice's blind son, begin on a journey to find a way to stop Mr. TV.
Screenwriter-director Esteban Sapir has wove a simple tale of good versus evil with a mix of the Underdog Achiever; it's the way Sapir tells and imagines his story that makes La Antena such a successful creation.
The City exists in darkness and light, in a world of silence and imagination where simple pleasures are enough to inspire great happiness. The film has no sound effects (gunshots almost sound as such, as the score turns to a marching band drum); instead, La Antena boasts an amazing musical score by Leo Sujatovich, which in fact works as an additional character. And like the film's other characters, Sujatovich's music seems “independent” even though it is strongly tied to the ensemble.
Every element of La Antena displays director Sapir's worth as a filmmaker. His first film in 1996, Picado fino / Fine Powder received much praise from critics, with someone even likening Sapir to Eisenstein. His use of symbolism and imagery mixed with the emotional presence of his characters are what lifts La Antena to great heights. Swastikas and the Star of David, sixes spinning into nines and then spinning back into sixes, floating bubble men, hooded divas, television-mouthed evil doctors, and tail-swing deformed henchmen are only a few examples of what you get from Sapir's relationship with celluloid.
If you begin feeling a bit nostalgic while watching La Antena, that'll be for a variety reasons. For one, if you grew up watching old Max Fleischer (Betty Boop or otherwise) cartoons, then you'll feel right at home in the audience as the sort of magical realism that existed in those early toons is present throughout La Antena. Also, the film nods several times to F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Georges Méliès, among others. There are even a few scenes in which the iconic moon man from Le Voyage dans la lune is included.
Those early filmmakers transformed the language of cinema; it is their early work that has influenced most of the films that have been produced ever since. With Sapir standing next to those giants, La Antena is certain to become an instant classic. In fact, watching La Antena in a theatre is an experience you will never forget.
© Keith Waterfield
La Antena / The Aerial (2007). Dir. / Scr.: Esteban Sapir. Cast: Alejandro Urdapilleta, Rafael Ferro, Florencia Raggi, Julieta Cardinali, Valeria Bertuccelli, Ricardo Merkin.