- The Aerial / La antena (2007) movie review: Esteban Sapir’s black-and-white, nearly silent morality fantasy is a cinematic paradox, coming across as both daringly innovative and lovingly nostalgic.
The Aerial movie review: Mixing aesthetic innovations with assorted homages to cinema’s past, Esteban Sapir’s surrealist fantasy is a treat for all seasons
Screenwriter-director Esteban Sapir’s surrealist Argentinean fantasy The Aerial / La antena had its Canadian premiere to an appreciative audience at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival.
From beginning to end, The Aerial – which features almost no dialogue – dazzled the eyes and stirred the emotions. It’s rare that a film can feel so fresh and yet so nostalgic.
Lost voices & brains
The Aerial is set around The City, where all denizens have lost their voices. They’re nameless and hopeless, held in the hands of Mr. TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta) – the television studio president who uses mind-controlling programming to get viewers to buy his round cookies with hypnotic icing spirals.
Mr. TV’s main tool is a woman known as The Voice (Florencia Raggi), who, as her name implies, still has a voice and whose singing lulls viewers into a consumerist trance. She works for Mr. TV because he has promised to give a pair of eyes to her child, the eyeless Tomás (Jonathan Sandor), who can also speak.
The eyes are to be delivered to The Voice’s house, but instead they get mistakenly dropped next door at the home of The Inventor (Rafael Ferro), his Nurse wife (Julieta Cardinali), and their daughter Ana (Sol Moreno), thus bringing Ana and Tomás together.
Mr. TV domination
City locals, for their part, communicate by mouthing words. The film’s intertitles interact with them, sometimes hiding behind a “shushed” finger, or growing bigger with enthusiasm, or getting pushed away by an angry conversationalist.
Tomás is able to “read lips” by pressing his fingers to people’s mouths as they speak, but the use of words is itself under threat. Mr. TV has been using The Voice to steal them, which would give him complete control of The City.
When The Inventor learns of the plan, he and his family, along with Tomás, begin on a journey to stop Mr. TV.
At its core, The Aerial is a simple tale of good vs. evil, mixed with the notion of the Underdog Achiever. But don’t let that deceive you: The way Sapir imagines and tells his story makes his film a remarkably successful creation.
Here’s one example: The Aerial has no sound effects; instead, the film uses Leo Sujatovich’s amazing musical score to create various special sounds – e.g., in place of a gunshot we hear a marching band drum. The score, in fact, works as an additional character that is “independent” from the others while remaining strongly tied to the ensemble.
Elsewhere, Sapir’s use of symbolism and imagery mixed with the “emotional presence” of his characters lifts his film to great heights. Hooded divas, tail-swinging henchmen, floating bubble men, swastikas and the Star of David, television-mouthed evil doctors, sixes spinning into nines and then spinning back into sixes are only a few samples of what you get.
And if you begin to feel a bit nostalgic while watching The Aerial, that’ll be for a variety of reasons.
For one, if you grew up watching old Max Fleischer cartoons (Betty Boop, etc.), Sapir’s fantasy will make you feel right at home, as the sort of magical realism found in those early toons is present throughout The Aerial, which also includes nods to F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang, and Georges Méliès, among others. There are even a few scenes featuring the iconic moon man from Méliès’ 1902 short A Trip to the Moon.
Those early filmmakers transformed the language of cinema; it’s their work that has influenced most of the films that have been produced ever since. With Sapir standing next to those giants, his latest effort is certain to become an instant classic.
Indeed, watching The Aerial in a theatre is an experience you will never forget.
The Aerial / La antena (2007)
Direction & Screenplay: Esteban Sapir.
Cast: Alejandro Urdapilleta. Valeria Bertuccelli. Julieta Cardinali. Rafael Ferro. Florencia Raggi. Jonathan Sandor. Sol Moreno. Ricardo Merkin.
“The Aerial Movie (2007): Innovating Storytelling + Cinematic Nostalgia” review text © Keith Waterfield; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“The Aerial (2007) Movie Review” endnotes
The Aerial was reviewed at the Fantasia Film Festival (website).
The Aerial movie image: LadobleA.
“The Aerial Movie (2007): Innovating Storytelling + Cinematic Nostalgia” last updated in October 2021.