People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.
With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.
This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.
Ever since The Jazz Singer sounded the death knell for silent cinema, the medium’s humble origins have been all but abandoned by the majority of film-makers. Occasionally directors will dabble with silent films to great commercial/critical success such as with multiple Oscar winner The Artist or the Spanish fantasy Blancanieves that is an inspired twist on Snow White. Others, like the astonishing Argentinian silent ‘La Antena’, slip under the radar and are sadly left largely unnoticed.
La Antena (The Ariel) is a beautiful love letter to the fantastical worlds depicted in the golden age of silent cinema. The homages to auteurs such as Chaplin, Lang and Méliès bring flavour to a Gilliamesque dystopia where everyone has lost their ability to speak apart from a mysterious lady known only as 'The Voice'. The city's inhabitants are kept in order by a shady television company and its corrupt director who is searching for ways to extend his controlling regime. When a recently fired worker uncovers a plot to kidnap The Voice and use her ability to hypnotise the city's residents he inadvertently drags his daughter and ex-wife into a dangerous struggle to save the population from a terrible fate.
Director Esteban Sapir has cleverly updated his silent film with a modern twist. In La Antena, when people speak, the words appear on screen next to them as they would in a speech bubble in a comic book. By using an array of fonts and sizes, Sapir's concoction conveys more than just what the characters are saying and provides us with further insight into how each utterance is delivered. In their heyday, silent films included intertitles to narrate the story and Sapir's novel idea means that the flow of his scenes isn't interrupted, whilst also adding to the overall charm of the picture.
Silent films relied heavily on their musical accompaniment to add an extra layer of depth to the proceedings and La Antena is no different in this respect. The haunting soundtrack plays a crucial role in setting the mood and ambience of the film. Delicate piano notes and vibrant strings evoke the dreamlike state of the dystopian setting we are presented with. A sombre tone is used throughout to reflect the current state of the unhappy city and different rhythms and melodies are attached to the heroes and villains of the piece. This gives us a clear indication of each character's disposition and brings them to life in an entertaining fashion that makes the film so memorable.
Underneath the enchanting presentation is a timely allegory for humanity's idolisation of the
television set and a stark reminder of the evil dictatorship that brainwashed Germany when the Nazis were in power. Symbolism is used to deliver Sapir's message and is tied in neatly with the creative set design so as not to eclipse the aura of fun that permeates the picture. This biting social and political commentary is utilised in a subtle way so as not to overwhelm the fantastical elements of the story, and provides food for thought alongside the enthralling adventure that ensues.
The film's climax is a cacophony of references to the greats of silent cinema, acting as a sublime tribute to the classics but also introducing audacious new ideas that showcase the magic of moving pictures. There are few surprises in this age old tale of good versus evil but it is the way the story is presented that will delight viewers. Sapir is a talented and imaginative film-maker who I would love to see direct more films in this spectacular style, and I sincerely hope that you will be as impressed by this breathtaking fantasy as much as those I have introduced it to so far.
If you take the time to watch La Antena then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!