Argentine director Esteban Sapir's sophomore feature La Antena (The Aerial, 2007) is densely marbled with cinematic citation, juggling freely the silent film conventions gleefully mined by Guy Maddin, with clear tips of the hat to Georges Méliès' La Lune à un mètre (Man in the Moon, 1898) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), and more veiled references to Alex Proyas's Dark City (1998), Higuchinsky's spiraling nightmare Uzumaki (2000), and the numerically confused plot contrivances of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's 6ixtynin9 (1999). Its kinetic and innovative use of intertitles reminds of Timur Bekmambetov's Nochnoy dozor (Nightwatch, 2004) and its criticism of consumerist society and television brainwashing harbors a cautionary touch of John Carpenter's They Live (1988).
Which is not to say La Antena is derivative. It achieves a singularly unique and vibrant synergy through its rampant citations in what Hollywood Reporter's Gregory Valens describes as "a poetic attempt to recreate a world through the sole power of images" and what Gary Miraz at Cinema Without Borders calls "an amazing spectacle of sight and sound." I had as much fun recognizing and identifying these images as enjoying how Sapir has layered them together. Further fueled by an exhilarating tango score by Juan Aguirre and Federico Rotstein, La Antena should be one of the top ticket rides at the Cinequest carnival. It would certainly be a wonder to see on the big screen. Admittedly, I've only seen it on screener.
As Twitch teammate Royalstin synopsized earlier, La Antena shapes its narrative as a fairy tale, placing us in an indeterminate future in a wintry city whose inhabitants have all lost their voice due to the evil machinations of Mr. TV and his mobster henchmen. Having eliminated all competition, Mr. TV has enthralled the populace with his spiraling transmissions, which lull them into buying his TV products, manufactured from their stolen voices. Not content with that, Mr. TV seeks to expand his production line by likewise stealing what is left to them: their words.
The best synopsis and analysis of the film is at Nick's Flick Picks where Nick qualifies that La Antena's "jaunty errand into silent-era surrealism and anti-corporate allegory … should, by all rights, be too obvious in its points and too crammed with fancies to generate the level of charm and light-touch magic that it does." Balancing his enthusiasm for the film with well-argued reservations, Nick concludes: "Sapir also indulges in some appropriations of several sign systems—Communist, Nazi, Judaic, marital, domestic—that he cheekily but indubitably simplifies in pursuit of his homiletic agendas. But all of that said, The Aerial is patently an exercise in formal and stylistic brio, and in breathing witty, creative life into hard-leftist axioms."
La Antena has the added distinction of being the first Argentine film in 36 years chosen for the official competition and opening of last year's Rotterdam Film Festival. Admittedly not a box office success, La Antena will hopefully find a cult following for those who like to think their way through entertainment.
La Antena will be screening thrice at San Jose's Cinequest; first on Saturday, March 1, 9:30PM in the California Theatre; next on Monday, March 3, 5:00PM, and Saturday, March 8, 11:30PM at the Camera 12.
Cross-published on Twitch.