["The Aerial"] Film (2007). Dogwoof presents a LaDobleA production. Written and directed by Esteban Sapir. Cast includes Valeria Bertuccelli, Julieta Cardinali, Rafael Ferro, Raúl Hochman, Sol Moreno, Carlos Piñeiro, Florencia Raggi, Jonathan Sandor and Alejandro Urdapilleta. 99 minutes. Black and white.
This almost-silent film from Argentina uses the long-standing connection between early Cinema and the depiction of Dystopias to communicate a world in which the poetry of the moving image is in danger of being drowned out by a monomaniacal Media Landscape. Writer and director Esteban Sapir's personal interest in Comics, graphic design and German expressionism is used to connote what he fears may be lost: sets and costumes are made from bits of old cardboard and outmoded pieces of Technology, dialogues and their meanings are depicted, not spoken, and there are clear references to the founding classics of sf filmography – Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) and, still further back, Le Voyage Dans La Lune by Georges Méliès (1902).
The plot is simple enough: an inventor "Father" (Ferro) enlists the help of his ex-wife (Cardinali) and daughter (Moreno) to wrest back the voice of a City from fascist mogul "Mr TV" (Urdapilleta). The mise en scène of La Antena is, however, a good deal more important to its message than its narrative shape. There is little attempt to root the allegorical implications of its imagery in the vernacular of the SF Megatext, or, indeed, the Hollywood blockbuster. This is a film about the beauty of one's own personal world over the state-sponsored Kipple of popular culture.
A pair of hands moves over a typewriter to a piano soundtrack. "Many years went by and no-one seemed bothered by the silence," a caption announces, before defining the monochromatic space as: "CITY WITHOUT A VOICE, YEAR XX". When, and indeed if, people speak, their words are spelled out, sometimes pictorialized against the environment to convey emotional context. The suppression of speech embellishes visual language, the creative freedoms of Fantastika being required for self-expression.
A faceless, hooded figure known as "The Voice" (Raggi) is permitted to retain the use of speech at cost of working as a singer for the city's only TV channel, owned by the Silvio Berlusconi-a-like Mr TV, a character so egregiously patriarchal in aspect that his pate is darkened by make-up to convey (the absence of) hair. The Voice's secret is her son, Tomás (Sandor), an eyeless boy who must never reveal his own powers of speech, and who is quickly connected via a mis-delivered letter to neighbour Ana, the aforementioned daughter of the inventor-father and his estranged wife, the Nurse.
It soon becomes clear that Mr TV dominates everyone around him by controlling their access to needful things. "Dear Voice," he writes, "I have finally obtained a pair of eyes for your son." These turn out to be a pair of 3-D-like paper glasses with eyes drawn on them. Mr TV and pet scientist "Dr Y" (Piñeiro) – a man with an enormous cardboard television strapped to the lower part of his face – plan to further subjugate the city by utilizing experiments on The Voice to aurally augment their reign of terror with irresistible Advertising jingles (see Meme). The only thing that might stop them would be the existence of another Voice.
When The Voice is hospitalized, the "Son of Mr TV" (Bertuccelli) comes out of hiding to reveal that his father has gone mad. Ana and Tomás are first captured by Mr TV's tailed henchman the "Rat Man" (Hochman), then rescued by Ana's reconciled parents, whereupon an expedition is mounted via suits made of inflatable Balloons to save the city by reactivating an abandoned aerial hidden in nearby mountains.
Mr TV and Dr Y strap The Voice to their machinery and initiate their broadcast during a televised boxing match. The populace of the city falls asleep as one, their words being sucked from them just as their voices once were. Another of La Antena's arresting visual metaphors sees Tomás strapped to a Star of David-shaped contraption at the site of the abandoned aerial, just as the Rat Man and his henchmen storm the station to interrupt our protagonists' attempt to foil Mr TV's scheme with a second transmission.
In their struggle over a gun, the Father and the Rat Man crash into a secret room to reveal a young girl fitted inside a glass orb: she, it seems, directs "The Aerial", dancing between four arrows – north, south, east and west – thereby defining not only the Dimensions of Mr TV's thought control but also, by implication, La Antena's strangely necrophiliac combination of Postmodernism and SF. The girl dances beneath the single eye of the typewriter, its keys beating the meaning from the language it has sucked from the populace of the city. "They've taken our voices away and now they're taking our words." A bullet kills the little-girl director, transforming her into an old woman. Ana knocks over the Rat Man. Tomás's Star of David transmission sends Dr Y into a choking fit and Mr TV finishes him off in a fit of uncontrolled anger. "Mummy, are you there?" asks Tomás. "Mummy? I can see." Disembodied mouths fill the screen in syncopated inarticulacy as the citizens of the city begin to awake, finally able to make a sound. The family emerges, reconnected, from La Antena, trying on their new voices for size.
La Antena opened the Rotterdam Film Festival of 2007 and Sapir was awarded Best Director at the Argentinian Film Critics Association Awards of 2008. [MD]
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