The immediately curious thing about Turkish writer-director Orçun Behram‘s new film Antenna, is that it presents a complete 180 view of creeping totalitarianism to what we are today witnessing in America, with Donald Trump’s threats to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Trump, of course, uses chaos and division to achieve his ends—and he tells his followers that it is all in the service of them achieving the maximum possible amount of “freedom” they believe to be promised to them in the Constitution.
Though The Antenna (released October 2 via Dark Star Pictures) is, in fact, meant to be a metaphorical riff on current president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s 18-year skulk towards authoritarianism, its presentation seems almost nostalgic, even somewhat outdated. It’s stunningly shot, bathed in Cold War aesthetics, with all the insidious shadows and unnervingly flickering lights that one might expect from just such a celluloid endeavor.
It opens on chillingly evocative images of a bleak, seemingly endless apartment complex (tower block chic is back, apparently) on the outskirts of god knows where. It feels distinctly Ballardian, but it is actually set in a dystopian Turkey of god knows when. Indecipherable announcements coming over a loudspeaker set an eerie tone (another well-executed trope), though the meeting that follows seems harmless enough.
We see two greyly but business-casually dressed men instructing a handyman about the installation of a satellite dish. As the latter leaves to accomplish said task, the older of the gentlemen then lethargically scolds the younger, Mehmet (played by an uber-brooding Ihsan Önal, sort of Adrien Brody crossed with Bob Geldof), about slacking on a job that has not yet been fully described—taking the proceedings quickly from quasi-Ballardian to slightly Kafkaesque.
There is a reference to “the bulletins” starting at 8pm, and one can readily guess that these will very much be of the re-education sort. As the camera moves inside from apartment to apartment, zombied out residents sit blankly entranced by mindless television programming; though oddly, the rooms look surprisingly well styled, as if taken from the pages of an early Soviet version of Wallpaper magazine.
One woman is watching a televised instructional, in which a cheerily smiling (aren’t they always?), party-approved presenter explains how to operate a syringe to the soundtrack of what would surely be some cheesy ’80s movie about aerobicise.
At dinner, a young girl tells her parents that the aforementioned handyman, who was installing the satellite dish, had jumped off the roof that morning, and that his brains were scattered all over. And then the film is on its way to all sorts of methodically, malignantly materializing horrors.
A conservatively suited party man comes on the TV and efficiently recites:
“The interacting we have achieved through intensive efforts marks that start of a new era. Attentive viewing and following of the programs and regulations, provided via daily bulletins, is crucial for the system to operate smoothly. For the utilization of unlimited communication sources, official channels will be prioritized. Under the governance of Ministry of Telecommunication, televisions, radios and newspapers will stream information in a well-coordinated manner. Our efforts to expand the reach of mass communication media continue at full speed. In the very near future we will reap the benefits of development in the everyday life.”
It has that old familiar ring of the ersatz-utopian; but it is naturally followed by the obligatory threat towards anyone not adhering to the stated regulations.
“Day by day we are getting closer to the ideal order. Any breeches of the order are hastily being eliminated. It is time to act as a single body. We will be with you forever. Our voice is your voice. Power, is our fate.”
Who would have guessed?
A young boy, Yusuf, starts hallucinating(?) that the walls are alive (shades of Polanski’s Repulsion), and then we see a thick black crude malevolently dripping down through all the cracks. Some of the residents even start spitting the stuff up—so it’s a little hard to exactly discern its purpose/threat.
Mehmet begins to suspect that something evil is indeed going on with that satellite dish, and begs to have it taken down. His gruff (in that Eastern European building superintendent sort of way) boss Cihan rebuffs him with extreme prejudice.
It’s all filmed in a highly meditative manner, with a haunting, ambient soundtrack that alternately recalls Sigur Ros and Brian Eno, but with a touch of menace. It seems meant to entrance the viewer into a possibly hypnotic state, letting the terror creep over one’s consciousness both furtively and cunningly.
Ultimately we hear a bulletin warning, “Citizens spotted out after midnight will be taken into custody,” followed by, “The loyalty of citizens will be determined by the Court of Commitment.”
Words which both Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Donald Trump seem perfectly capable of repeating.
Virtual Theaters (October 2) – Including: Los Angeles (Laemmle), New York and major cities (Alamo On Demand) and Philadelphia (Film Society).
VOD (US & Canada) (October 20): Including: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Dish Network and all major cable providers.