La Antena [The Aerial] (2007)

Silent film has existed in its own little ghetto since the coming of sound.

It doesn’t help that silent films have often been played far too fast, thanks to the changes in film standards, or that often all people see of them are short snippets, often with absurdly silly noises added, or that those who’ve dabbled in making mock silent films usually burlesque them completely.

But there have been a few heroic efforts to revive the silents, although few have so completely caught the ambiance of silent film – and, in particular, German Expressionism – as well as La Antena.

Set in a 30s modern city where the people have lost their voices, only the mysterious singer known as The Voice can still speak.  But the evil magnate, Mr. TV plans to use her voice to power a machine that will let him rule the city.  Only The Voice’s son can stop him – if he and the family protecting him can reach the long abandoned aerial above the city in time.

This is stunningly beautiful film.  One of the great advantages of Expressionism is that it lends itself to creating artistic images in ways that more realistic approaches to film simply cannot match.  Here, Argentinian director, Esteban Sapir, borrows heavily from classic films like Metropolis, while at the same time creating something unique and previously unheard of.

More than anything else, it reminds me of The Artist (2011), which, while it isn’t Expressionist (except for the opening sequence) is as serious in its attempt to recreate silent film.

Technically, it isn’t entirely silent, as there is a musical track – and a few spoken words.  However, the film displays its subtitles with a great deal of artistry, putting them up on the screen in an incredible number of different ways – much as some of the original German prints of these films did.

It is let down just a little bit by its computer effects (mostly used to insert elements), which tend to stand out at the wrong time.  In the past, these effects would have been achieved optically, without the sudden burst of unreality every time something moves through the air.  But it would be almost impossible now to optically print an effects sequence (does anyone still have a working optical printer?) – and the cost of enhancing the CGI so it looks more optical would be far too expensive for an independent film like this.  However, it more than makes up for this with its incredible use of symbolic imagery, montage, overlapping and multi-layered images, and radical film transitions, all of which hearken back to the age of Expressionism (with perhaps a hint of the Vertov school as well).

But is it science fiction?

Well, it has most of the toys: flying “balloon men” with propeller driven shoes; big machines, Metropolis-style montages of machinery at work, bolts of electricity and a big, creepy aerial.  I’ll confess I’m far from convinced it belongs on this page.

Yet any film this incredible deserves to be seen.


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