La Antena Review
A modern-day movie, shot in black-and-white as a silent movie in a bold montage style that is reminiscent of early Russian filmmaking and German Expressionism with a touch of surrealism thrown in, the techniques and references in Argentine director Esteban Sapir’s La Antena (The Aerial) suggest a post-modern experimental film in the manner of Guy Maddin. But instead of the Canadian director’s scratchy lo-fi aesthetic, Sapir uses modern techniques and CGI effects to achieve the same purpose, using the nature of symbols and imagery to generate an elaborate children’s fantasy story with a serious underlying message about political oppression.
Set in The City Without A Voice, it’s the use of silence that is most evidently used to have an impact on modern-day audiences, showing how the inhabitants under the control of Mr TV, are indeed left without a voice. Ensuring conformity through control of the television channels and a monopoly on associated products, Mr TV however intends to extend his totalitarian influence over the populace by kidnapping The Voice, a famous night-club singer with the rare ability to move and inspire the people through her songs. As the only person who can vocalise words, Mr TV wishes to uses her power in a broadcast which will take away the very words the people use. A young girl Ana however has befriended the son of The Voice, a boy with no eyes, who also appears to have inherited her rare ability to speak. With the help of her estranged parents and her grandfather, who along with her father has been fired from their jobs as TV repairmen by the national corporation that controls the television enterprise, Ana and her family find that there may be a way to use the voice of blind boy to spoil the diabolical scheme of Mr TV.
Although La Antena’s story is certainly heavily symbolic and quite obvious in its allegorical qualities, what is marvellous is how fantastical this kind of material can become when it is shown in literal terms. Although people cannot speak out loud, they are able to exchange words which literally materialise out of their mouths and around their heads, creating a visually impressive image as well as a meaningful allegory. The director takes full graphic advantage of this conceit, spinning words, showing them cut-off, truncated and visually muted. And when Mr TV speaks about taking away the ability of people to even express their thoughts, the words are literally shown being taken away from them, floating away into the night like a snowfall. The application of this powerful visual aesthetic is used throughout, making use of shadows, recurrent images and shapes in a manner that evokes Metropolis and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, carrying with it the horror undercurrents in those films of a society and people under the influence of a terrible power. The film furthermore works such imagery into a striking montage of overlapping imagery in a manner that has all the graphic power of Sergei Eisenstein and classic Russian movie posters.
The downside to such boldness and grand imagery is that it is at the expense of any more subtle commentary on the nature of political oppression and repression of the individual, the film’s airbrushed quality almost achieving its own fascistic purity of aesthetic. One would perhaps expect a more meaningful treatment of such a subject from an Argentinean film than its depiction as a children’s fairytale, but there is much to enjoy in the pure visual quality of a film filled with classic silent film references and as imaginative a fantasy as Jeunet and Caro’s City of Lost Children.
La Antena is distributed in the UK by Dogwoof and opens on the 16th May.