May 29, 2023
The Antares Paradox

Fantastic Fest 2022 – Film Review – The Antares Paradox (2022)

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An ethical quandary of epic proportions thrusts this stunning  Spanish Sci-Fi drama into a mesmerising trajectory of against-the-clock thrills and anguished soul searching.

Workaholic Alexandra is consumed by her job of scanning the cosmos for extra-terrestrial transmissions from the shittiest radio telescope station in Europe. Lambasted by her friends and colleagues and ridiculed by her peers she is determined to indulge her obsession of proving we are not alone.

However, just as she intercepts a possible broadcast that could change the entire planet’s dynamic she is plunged into a personal crisis of great magnitude. With limited time to confirm her mind-shattering discovery, Alexandra must wrestle with the heartbreaking moral dilemma of fulfilling her hard-wired familial duties or potentially repointing the signposts of our evolution.

Luis Tinoco Pineda’s smart and sentient space signal drama demands acute concentration and a hefty chunk of belief suspension from the viewer. However, the pulsating payoff is a breathless watch-along experience during a game-changing moment in history.

Shot on a purpose-built set to maximise resources Pineda exploits a real-time vibe to achieve a linear leanness seldom seen in a genre prone to existential overstuffing. Despite the claustrophobic atmosphere, the director injects precious pockets of narrative air that allow his movie enough breathing space to sustain its frenetic dash for the finish line.

Everything from a pesky superstorm, failure of underfunded hardware, shrinking time windows, and coincidental resurfacing of past misdemeanours are spewed mercilessly into the mix. And that is just from the alien airwaves side of things. Alexandra still has to contend with equal stress from the other strand of her ethical challenge that incorporates outright blackmail, industrial-grade guilt tripping, and brutally judgemental character assassinations.

At times this constant barrage of adversity aimed at our heroine crosses the line between artistic license and formulated manipulation. That being said, the film weaponizes these contrivances to wring tension from every blinking light, wailing alarm, download sidebar, and family face time until you are helplessly sucked in regardless. If you have never screamed obscenities at a movie fuse box before that is about to change.

The film benefits greatly from both keen research and a simplistic but extremely clever structure. In order to confirm her discovery and give her findings sufficient credibility, Alexandra must execute a strictly defined procedure to the letter. It’s this relentless threat to the preservation of her holy grail data and the derailment of the requisite protocol that spawns the ridiculously intense levels of audience anxiety and empathy.

Our first glimpse of Alexandra’s uncompromising pragmatism comes during a Q & A podcast session. She is asked to prioritise proof of alien life or a cure for cancer and her response is that the former could be the key to counteracting many of humanity’s problems including the latter. Alexandra firmly believes that first contact is the first step to homo sapiens recognising themselves as a unified species and as such begin to heal the damaging divisions propagated by borders, nationalism, and religion.

She is convinced that Einstein was correct to choose his work over his family and goes as far as to say that if he had wasted less of his valuable time on them he might have elevated his mind to even greater discoveries. This sense of emotionally connected forfeiture is what makes her so admirable and infuriating in equal measure.

Alexandra is the only cast member we encounter that does not appear on a monitor or is simply heard on a phone line. Subsequently, the overwhelming lion’s share of the dramatic impact of The Antares Paradox rests on Andrea Trepat‘s talented shoulders. She carries the burden with style and her portrayal of a woman determined to deprogram her sentimentality for the greater good is astonishing. Trepat encapsulates perfectly both the inherent melancholy and steely utilitarianism of an obsessive pioneer teetering on an ethical high wire between professional immortality and moral ruination.

She is aided enormously by the gorgeously cinematic score from the prolific Arnau Bataller. It’s a stunningly sweeping piece of work that mirrors the gravity of the film’s central concept and the effusive nature of Alexandra’s impossible choices.

The Antares Paradox is a cinematic TARDIS. Small and unassuming in scale from the outside but able to house a gigantic horde of concepts, themes, philosophies, and humanistic complexities. A thoroughly entertaining white-knuckle wonder that painlessly dissects the heaviest of abstractions with the lightest of touches.

★★★★

WORLD PREMIERE

Sci-Fi Drama | Spain, 2022 | 96 mins | Onirikal Studio | Dir. Luis Tinoco Pineda | With: Andrea Trepat, Aleida Torrent, Jaume de Sans

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