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The Aerial (Esteban Sapir, 2007)

Both less inventive and less substantial than it seems to think it is, Esteban Sapirís Argentinean, sci-fi, would-be epic The Aerial actually suffers from the comparisons it prompts as it tries to reference a series of silent classics. Featuring a retro conception of the future that seems borrowed from better films like Brazil or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the movie is not set in the silent era, despite the fact that itís a silent film. In fact, the plot actually centers on a nefarious scheme involving television broadcasting used to brainwash and silence the masses. The story, which never gains any urgency despite rampant cross-cutting, verges on kitsch, and almost seems more suited for an animated film than a live action feature, no matter how stylized an exercise this might be. The wildly exaggerated performances never click, and always feel a bit amateurish. The political undercurrents are facile, never evolving beyond the surface level. Ultimately, thereís not much here beyond empty technique and shallow allusion (several black and white classics, such as George Meliesí Voyage to the Moon and Citizen Kane are given explicit visual nods).

There have been several wholly successful silent movies made in homage over the last few years. Rolf de Heerís Dr. Plonk, Andrew Lemanís The Call of Cthulhu, and the work of Guy Maddin all come to mind. Unlike most of these movies, though, The Aerial uses a considerable amount of digital trickery to spice up its images. Although this allows the filmmakers to invent some neat effects, such as the imposition of the words that the characters speak as actual physical objects in their world, there seems something a tad undisciplined about using newfangled technology (or the widescreen frame, for that matter) in this kind of deliberate throwback. Thereís little rigor in Sapirís scattershot approach, cheapening the viewing experience considerably. Admittedly, some moments of imagination make their way to the screen, as do some noteworthy cinematographic flourishes. For example, one supporting character is a creepy looking boy without eyes and his mother gets a lively musical sequence or two, but those seem small rewards for viewers, given the potential of this sort of thing. One must also concede that at times Sapir manages to convey an impressive sense of scale, especially if one considers the relatively low-budget roots of the film. At the same time, considering those financial roots of the project seems to be making excuses for what is a fundamentally overambitious and underdeveloped work.


Jeremy Heilman