Saturday, 26 July 2008

La Antena (2007, Argentina, Esteban Sapir)

Argentinian cinema is appearing more and more on the world stage at the moment. Pablo Trapero's 'Leonera' and Lucrecia Martel's 'La Mujer Sin Cabeza' were both in competition at Cannes for the Palme D'Or, and Lucia Puenzo's 'XXY', a sensitive portrayal of the life of a teenage hermaphrodite secured a British cinema release earlier in 2008 (a film I had quite a lot of time for too). 'La Antena', a throwback to the days of silent cinema and more accurately German expressionism was too released in May in cinemas. It's an intriguing commercial decision certainly, because it's essentially a silent film in black and white which shuns modern cinematic conventions, uses hand made effects rather than CGI and would sit comfortably with more the surreal films of the 1920s - just see how the film begins with fingers hovering over a typewriter, with piano sounds being heard. It's certainly the kind of film that won't be sought out by multiplex audiences.

The narrative itself plays second fiddle to an extent to Sapir's technical brilliance because it really doesn't hold the imagination that much. This is a city where no-one has a voice, where life is controlled by the hypnotic draw of television, and where some plucky central characters try to break this spell and liberate the inhabitants of the city. It's the kind of set up that has been done before, mostly in the world of science fiction, and to an extent in the films that Sapir seeks to draw inspiration from - there's a homage to 'Metropolis' in one scene, a film which has a similar plot to this one. Whether Sapir seeks to make any pertinent points about television as a tool that makes people docile and is used as a means of suppression in contemporary society, I don't know or maybe it's just a convenient enough basis for him to explore his imaginative visual ideas. Also, there's the significance of people literally having no voice - does this refer in any way to Argentinian history, where democracy has often been precariously placed and replaced by military rule/dictatorships in the past? Again, allegorical interpretations of 'La Antena' can be made, but such is the emphasis on the aesthetics of the film that you'd be forgiven for wondering this was Sapir's intentions.

I've no idea what kind of budget Sapir had to work with on this film, but as I assume it was minimal, he certainly stretches it a long way. We're used to watching modern films with gigantic budgets and you think to yourself "where did the money go"? Not so with 'La Antena', where you think completely the opposite, how did Sapir manage to achieve this with barely any financial assistance. Sapir clearly has an active imagination, a rich sense of film history (see his tribute to 'A Trip To The Moon') and a willingness to put his ideas on celluloid without any doubts. His use of subtitles for instance are different - I suppose they're aiming to be like intertitles from silent cinema, but they completely reflect every word that's said, rather than just the gist of a conversation, but they also leap from the screen. Sapir's world is also completely artificial, deliberately so. See how his distance shots of the city are clearly made from paper, but constructed to look effective as well as how such things would have been filmed in yesteryear.

Sapir is certainly a film maker of some promise and it will be interesting to see which projects he works on next. 'La Antena' is a feast for the eyes for sure and an imaginative piece of work. I'm not sure however that the narrative is much more than a slight premise for Sapir to get his ideas on screen, and that's fine - he clearly had to work with limited resources and 'La Antena' is more than the sum of its parts. Sapir's film has been likened to the work of early Tim Burton, but if we're thinking contemporary kindred spirits, then Guy Maddin is perhaps a more natural comparison and who knows whether his work has been an influence as he draws direct inspiration from surreal and expressionist cinema. 3.5/5

'La Antena' will be released on DVD on 18 August from Dogwoof Pictures.

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