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Reviews - La Antena

La Antena

Reviewed By John Stakes

La Antena
La Antena
Perhaps the most unusual film of the season if not the year was last Sunday’s screening of Spanish director Esteban Sapir’s visually remarkable 2007 film “La Antena” (The Aerial). Impossible to pigeon-hole, the film is a surreal almost silent black and white satirical fairytale set in an austere snow-bound metropolis (lying inside a pop-up book) in which, all bar two of the inhabitants are incapable of speech and are controlled by Mr TV, the president of a TV studio who uses hypnotic programming to persuade viewers to buy his products.

The two citizens with voices are Tomas, a blind boy and his hooded mother la Voz (“The Voice”) whose singing lulls viewers into a consumerist trance. She agrees to sing for Mr TV because he has promised her a pair of eyes for Tomas but in the course of delivery the letter confirming the eyes are ready is dropped into the home of some neighbours across the street, Mr and Mrs X which brings their daughter Ana and Tomas together. Ana’s parents are separated and their quest to topple Mr TV not surprisingly reunites them to Ana’s delight. Mr TV is unaware that Tomas has the power of speech and would kill him if he knew.

In this eerie world of almost complete silence (there are no sound effects either except as created by the musical score) one of the pleasures of this film was watching how the people communicate with each other. Tomas does this by pressing his fingers against people’s mouths to lip-read. Everyone else mouths their speech at which point two sets of subtitles appear, the larger one being used to interact with the cast and the smaller is for our benefit.

In his quest to gain absolute control the omnipotent Mr TV uses The Voice to steal their words which float away across the sky towards a huge typewriter shaped aerial located at the top of a mountain range made of old newspapers. Ana’s father is a TV repair man and sets off with his family to climb the paper mountain to deactivate and destroy the aerial. When all seems lost Tomas’s sudden and repeated heartfelt audible cry for his mother shatters the silence and Mr TV is defeated.

The film was brimming with imagery both simplistic and profound the significance of some of which for this journeyman reviewer was unclear as the director indulged himself in visual flourishes veering between the dream-like and a retro style re-enactment of early 20th century silent screen styles reminiscent of Fritz Lang (“Metropolis”) and Eisenstein. At heart though this was a simple tale of good versus evil woven together by a director who had composed an original and highly personal spectacle.

The scenery and some of the characters were fantasised to help maintain this spell. The striking musical score came across as both another character and as a tool to dramatise and illuminate the simple narrative.

Whatever technical and digital brilliance was needed to create these startling images there was a curious lack of warmth and the overall feeling was one of admiration rather than engagement. At the Canadian Fantasia Film Festival held in July 2007 the audience apparently burst into spontaneous applause when the silence was broken. Keswick’s audience was more restrained preferring perhaps to mull over or savour what had been a bit of a curate’s egg of a cinematic experience but a welcome addition to the club’s repertoire nevertheless.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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