DVD Review: La Antena
As you can probably gather from my interest in video games of all eras, I've never quite understood why, in those art forms more reliant on technology, the effective storytelling techniques of one generation are all too often abandoned completely once more advanced technology becomes available.
This is apparently something that Esteban Sapir has been thinking about. As far as he's concerned, a silent movie is a 'pure' movie - one where the moving pictures themselves must provide the emotional power and character, where every frame must be well composed and relevant. To that end, he wrote and directed La Antena ('The Aerial'), where all the computer-aided wizardry of the 21st Century is used to recreate (with a little embellishment) a silent movie in proper 1920s style.
La Antena tells us the story of a surreal city, where every citizen has lost their voice. Their words appear as comic-book captions that are mostly supposed to represent their lip-reading one another, but which at times also take a more solid presence, with characters moving their subtitles around, covering them up and crushing them in anger.* Following on from the likes of Fritz Lang (“the head and the hand” and so on), Sapir fills La Antena with strong, simplistic symbolism - creating a film where the story not only directly revolves around symbols, but where those symbols can be interacted with as physical objects.
Although the characters are mute, the film also creates a deaf audience. As in a silent film, there are no sound effects, and only the most obvious noises are enacted by the instruments that create the film's entertaining and engrossing musical score. The sole exception to this deafness is also perhaps the most memorable - and tragic - symbol in the film: La Voz, 'The Voice', the one woman in the city who retains the ability to speak. In order to furnish her sightless son with a pair of eyes, La Voz has entered into a shady deal with Mr TV, a man who, with his television transmissions and TV meals seems to have complete control over the city. Once Mr TV has the power of La Voz's voice, however, his evil schemes will be able to take a drastic leap forward - and the only people who stand in his way are a downtrodden family of TV technicians.
Through strong characters and surreal settings, Sapir succeeds in creating a constant stream of visual poetry and unbounded imagination - but best of all, he creates a tangible sense of tension between that imagination and the crushing, unsympathetic boot of totalitarianism. At times, the soaring imagery gave me a spine-tingling sense of the potential of human imagination, but this sensation was never present without the reminder of our capacity to oppress and destroy the wonders that we create.
Some might think it strange to suggest that one of the most striking and memorable movies of the beginning of the 21st Century should be one which takes great pains to emulate the movies from a century beforehand. But I, for one, think that La Antena is a sumptuous reminder of everything wondrous and forgotten about the era of silent film-making, as well as a beautiful film in its own right.
*(For those of us not fluent in Spanish, this does mean two sets of subtitles to pay attention to, but the dialogue is always concise.)