Every once in a while along comes a film whose sheer originality beguiles you so completely that all you can do is utter a string of superlatives. The Aerial (La Antena) is just such a film. Although quintessentially a fairytale, Argentinean director Esteban Sapirs unique style twists all the usual elements of this familiar childhood terrain to create a thoroughly outlandish landscape. The result is a postmodern tour de force; a melange of recognisable styles inimitably pieced together to produce not simply a film but a work of art.
Set in a city without a voice, the film follows the villainous Mr TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta), who not content with robbing the population of its voice, resolves to deprive it of its words. For as one of the characters notes, we may not be able to speak, but we still have words. Their full force is felt as they float around like animated subtitles, form expressing content: the rat-a-tat-tat of guns flashing angrily in black and white; and words such as GUILT weighing heavily on culprits shoulders.
As Mr TVs lust for supremacy grows, controlling the inhabitants through hypnotic broadcasts and addictive TV meals, he kidnaps La Voz (Florencia Raggi) one of two citizens who have inexplicably retained their power of speech to harness her voice and further subjugate the city. Standing in his way is an inventor (Rafael Ferro) who plans to counter Mr TVs broadcasts by using La Vozs blind son Tomas (Jonathan Sandor) the other voice. Together with his wife and daughter Ana (Sol Moreno), the quartet make a dash to an aerial in the mountains with Mr TVs grotesque henchmen hot on their trail.
Sapirs second feature is first and foremost a monochrome salute to early silent cinema, with echoes both of German expressionism and 1920s Soviet film. The actors too pay homage to this mute cinematic era with their hyperbolic performances. But the film also recalls more contemporary filmmakers evoking as it does the warped fairytale world of Tim Burton and Michel Gondry with his reality-bending techniques. Like the French director, Sapir manipulates mise en scene and exploits animation to a surreal yet exquisite effect.
Although predominantly silent in terms of dialogue, the films powerful soundtrack guides the spectator, overtly providing the emotional cues usually dominated by the script. Tomas and La Vozs utterances are particularly notable against this dialogue-free backdrop and stand out as a celebration of the human voice. Tomass appeal to his mother at the end of the film resonates with a hauntingly beautiful quality which intensifies with each repetition.
Lyrical little touches abound in the film: the solitary jewel-like tear that clings to characters cheeks when upset; the subtly protean facial expressions of Tomas, the boy without eyes; and the continually falling snow that imbues The Aerial with all the picturesque starkness of winter. Although Sapir does falter in his trite use of the swastika as a symbol for Mr TV and the Star of David for the films heroes, it is fortunately only a minor detail. And beneath Sapirs stylish hallucination there lies a message. The Aerial is a stab at consumer culture which threatens to gobble up our world and disgorge a society of nightmarish proportions not entirely unlike the film.