La Antena (Esteban Sapir, 2007)

“Inventive, elegiac, gently surreal.  If David Lynch had been around in the 1920s, it’s exactly the kind of film he would have made.” – Ian Berriman, SFX.CO.UK

Drafthouse Films LogoIn the year XX, an entire city has lost the ability to speak save for the mysterious Voice (Florencia Raggi), a hooded singer whose soothing songs are heard on a program broadcast under the media monopoly of Mr. TV (Alejandro Urdapilleta).  When Mr. TV’s nefarious schemes escalate and he kidnaps the Voice with plans to use her vocal chords to extend his power, her eyeless son Tomás, also gifted with the power of speech, becomes the only hope for her and the voiceless city.  An inventor (Rafael Ferro), his ex-wife (Julieta Cardinali), and their devoted daughter Ana (Sol Moreno) race to save Tomás, the Voice, and the city from Mr. TV’s despotic plot, dodging the mogul’s silhouetted henchmen and his evil righthand, the Mouse Man.  A cautionary tale on media control, Esteban Sapir’s La Antena is a stylized sci-fi thriller drawing heavily on silent cinema, film noir, and German expressionism that is “in a word: Unmissable” (Kat Brown, Empire Online).

Special Features:

  • Interview with filmmaker Esteban Sapir
  • Making of La Antena: a documentary featurette on the making of the film
  • Deleted and alternate scenes
  • Picado fino, Sapir’s 1996 debut feature
  • Trailers
  • 42-page booklet of script excerpts and storyboard art

“Calle Eclipse” Edition – Package includes:

  • La Antena on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 2 hours of bonus material
  • High quality 720p HD Digital Download of the Film Available on Street Date
  • Instant Download of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Leo Sujatovich in Apple MP4
  • 27″ x 40″ Theatrical Poster Autographed by Sapir
  • 27″ x 40″ Mondo Poster by Tyler Stout
  • Alimentos TV Dinner Biscuits

While already 6 years has passed since its initial release, I’d hesitate to call La Antena a repertory selection.  It really hasn’t been that long since the film first screened and its ode to early cinema seems to set it outside of the time of its production, avoiding its becoming dated.  Its pastiche style most obviously compares to the work of Guy Maddin, who’s made an entire career of using silent and early sound cinema conventions to set his psychoanalytically-charged dreamworlds.  Sapir is no simple Maddin-emulator however, drawing on a host of past and contemporary cinematic influences and employing these components with historical and political significance.  Those interested in playing “spot-the-reference” will quickly recognize La Antena as citing Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902), Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), Soviet Constructivism, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct (1933), the more recent Dark City (Alex Proyas, 1998), and a healthy dose of Tim Burton.  Beyond these citations, Sapir proves an imaginative and droll formalist, avoiding intertitles to prefer onscreen text incorporated into La Antena‘s mise en scène.  It’s difficult to say whether these texts are actually diegetic or not.  Critical discussion of the film seems mixed on this point and I’m inclined to believe that examples supporting either position can be found.  This is not to suggest that La Antena is somehow stylistically inconsistent or unsophisticated, but instead expresses the surrealism and surprise loaded into each scene.  Whether gunning down characters with onomatopoeic text or having whispered plans obscured behind characters’ collars, La Antena is never without audio-visual invention.

I’ve come across no discussions of the context for La Antena (at least in English language discussions of the film).  The film’s portrayal of media monopolization and exploitation seems misplaced given the strong diversity of Argentina’s modern media systems.  La Antena is infused with references outside of the cinematically intertextual, employing iconographies pointedly socio-political in orientation.  Sapir throws around the symbologies of Nazism, Judaica, Communism, and other belief systems with generous, but ordered care.  Considering Argentina’s political history of dictatorships, despotism, and disappearances, it is easy to consider La Antena‘s abductions, murders, and avarice as embodying many of the national traumas particular to the nation’s socio-political unconscious.  The film’s stylishness and cinematic reverence obscures such a potential reading, at least amongst the critics and reporters introduced to La Antena by genre film festivals.  This seems to be a testament to both Sapir’s imagination and the cultural chauvinism inadvertently exhibited on international material.

Antena PosterVarious poster and DVD cover treatments of La Antena are already out there.  Personally, I’d advocate for this version for a Drafthouse Films disc release.  It most strongly evokes both design and the palette of the film.  Further, the high volume of film content (characters, settings, iconography) makes it very reminiscent of the poster art of Drafthouse favourite Tyler Stout.  In fact, a version/elaboration of this poster by Stout would likely be quite successful and allow for a reversible cover sheet for the disc packaging.

Credits: A filmmaker interview seemed like a reasonable special feature given that I’ve seen interviews with Sapir (although I have no idea what’s being said in them).  Some firsthand comment on the film by Sapir would be significant as there is precious little English language content on him and his intentions for the film.  The Making of featurette links to a very short piece related to the Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival.  Its existence leads me to hope that a more elaborate examination of the film’s production is or could be available.  Given the fantastic nature of the film and its somewhat primitive look, seeing it being made (and in colour) is quite a treat.  Various deleted scenes are apparently available on a DVD edition of La Antena that include some insights on the Mouse Man’s background, depicts the Voice’s kidnapping, and provides other content, as well as alternative openings and endings.  Picado Fino is Sapir’s first feature, made more than a decade before La Antena.  Although it is set in a far less fantastic environment and deals with a romantically conflicted young man who becomes involved in the drug trade, many of the stylistic hallmarks of La Antena can be seen in this earlier picture.  The film’s script apparently totals only 60 pages, but was extensively storyboarded over 5 months with over 3,000 shots.  A comparison of these components to the film’s production would be a good use of the usually accompanying booklet.

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