Antares (Götz Spielmann, 2004/2005)

Like Amores Perros and 21 Grams before it (and Crash just a month after it), Antares is a film about interconnectedness that relies heavily on a car accident. Antares begins with its crash and then takes us to a time before it where Eva (Petra Morzé), a content nurse with a husband and daughter, begins an affair with the victim from the opening scene. After telling the story from her point of view, the story shifts to Sonja (Susanne Wuest), who has been falsely telling her boyfriend Marco (Dennis Cubic) that she is pregnant and suspects him of cheating (she is eventually proven correct). The final tale is Alex (Andreas Kiendl), a cruel realtor who stood up the Eva and her husband and also the father of the child of the woman with whom Marco is cheating.

Being a story about connectedness, we see several events from multiple points of view, and phones are a recurring motif in all three stories. If the wrong person picks up the phone, the caller will hang up. An unfamiliar number found in a coat pocket is bound to draw suspicion. Interestingly, such occurrences only give the illusion of entering further into another’s life. The man having the affair is connected to a married man more by what he is doing with the man’s wife than by any words exchanged on the phone, and suspicion that your boyfriend has eyes for other girls will be neither quelled nor enhanced if it’s a guy’s number in his pocket if that guy also has an attractive wife he spent time talking with the night before. But what holds Antares back is that writer-director Götz Spielmann does not have anything to say about our connectedness. He illustrates it through phone calls, a car crash, and letting us hear a scream an hour before showing us, two stories later, what caused the scream, but he does not show what our interconnectedness means on a larger scale. Maybe Six Degrees of Separation is too many, but the genuine insight about, for example, tragedy and perseverance offered by a film like The Edge of Heaven, or about ripple effects of small actions and the blurry line between coincidence and fate offered by the much-later Upstream Color is sorely missing. It should be noted that the first two stories lack any kind of direct connection but it’s difficult to judge whether that undermines the premise or seeks to affirm or perhaps even expand on Karinthy’s aforementioned theory.

Either way, what saves Antares is precisely who is connected. Our characters range from store clerks to realtors to nurses who don’t have to think twice before looking for another apartment, and whether they are Austrian or Yugoslavian, they can be both sexually frustrated or unfaithful. Furthermore, these characters tend to look a great deal alike—the women are very blonde, and the men are neither tall, clean-shaven and combed or scraggly with facial hair—and it’s an effective way of literalizing their commonalities. Regardless of social status, Antares’ cast are grappling with the same issues and playing roles, however small, in the lives of each other. Spielmann may not do any more than say we are all connected, but he makes sure to be inclusive about it.

But Spielmann’s other emphatic mark, his fascination with sexual betrayal and satisfaction, actually bogs down the film’s inclusive nature. Eva’s story is largely without plot and spends much of its time with extremely graphic sex scenes, a decision which paradoxically disconnects Eva from the following two stories. After emphatically declaring that the film will be no frills when it comes to portrayal of sex, it doesn’t take long to backpedal, and the unintended elephant in the room is what makes sex between these two so special? Is it supposed to be more honest or is it supposed to be more disturbing? Why? Certainly, or at least hopefully, it is not because of class.

Spielmann’s style is, at times, quite like that of fellow-countrymen Michael Haneke, albeit without the exhibitionist, confrontational edge or deliberate provocations. But Spielmann’s compositional rigor could stand up to Haneke’s, and his camera is as unlikely to move as Haneke’s. As a result, colors jump out, repeated events play in an entirely new way from a different point of view, and there is always sound, often times important, coming from out of frame.

In the end, though, it’s a bit trite. Antares stumbles so badly in its first story that it’s difficult to ascertain when it regains its footing. That’s likely because the film never fully recovers, and what comes through clearly, a meticulously shot examination of sex and social status, never feels particularly urgent. When the final shots light up the screen, they are closer to vacuous than revelatory.

 

Grade: C

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