Luis Tinoco impresses with a stellar, single-location drama
How we spend out fleeting time on this Earth matters. We measure it in different ways. Some in terms of our impact on society. Others, in terms of the more intimate bonds we forge and feelings we evoke in the people around us. For scientists, a legacy is often judged by discovery and data, pursuits that often come at great personal sacrifice. This conflict is the crux of The Antares Paradox, where a protagonist is faced with an impossible choice, of forever fracturing her tenuous ties to her family, or answering the question that has driven her professional life. Are are we alone in the universe?
Radio astronomer Alex (Andrea Trepat) is devoted to her research at a Spain-based outpost of S.E.T.I., (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). Years of time and money has resulted in a fraction of the universe being screened for signs of life out in the stars. With little to show for their efforts, her outpost is on the verge of closure. Staff and equipment has been stripped from the station, and Alex finds herself beginning her latest shift at an unmanned post, with a series of DIY jobs needed to keep things running. Outside things aren’t much better, as a colossal storm is about to hit the region, and her father has been taken to the local hospital. Her choice to pursue her work at the expense of time with her family, even in this time, has deepened an fissure between Alex and her sister Ana (Aleida Torrent). Amidst the chaos, a green light blinks, a signal from the distant Antares system. With the storm about to hit, her satellite access expiring, and her father’s condition deteriorating, Alex begins the long verification protocol, to ensure the signal is genuine, before time runs out.
It’s a great premise to kickoff a movie. An urgent predicament and an infusion of personal drama, all unfolding in (seemingly) real-time, in a single room with a ticking clock. Beholden to a scientific method, Alex must navigate a series of 5 steps to validate the message as being authentic. Hoping the station holds out against the force of the storm, she has to jury rig equipment, flip breakers tripped by the storm, handle a finite access to the satellite array, and a host of other issues that wouldn’t be a problem if we just funded the sciences (an applaudable message in the film). Beyond these tech troubles, Alex must also push back on bureaucracy and bargain with wronged people from her past to save her present. Something agonizing considering the sacrifices made to get to this point. She is locked into a scenario where the risks she is taking may destroy her career, but the rewards for success may be incalculable. In justifying her devotion to this pursuit, and to society as a whole.
It’s an impeccably crafted scenario where it’s all or nothing roll of the die to get the proof Alex needs, or possibly end up with nothing to show for a night of pain and perspiration. The conflict Alex faces is nicely framed by inter-cutting a video podcast interview that opens up insight into her mind, curiosity, belief, and priorities, as well as video messages from her father that emotionally throw a wrench into her logic. The former puts into context what Alex’s discovery truly might mean for our society, the latter effectively pulls at the heartstrings. The science slant is both aspirational and expansive, but the film carefully winds its way to the age old conflict of facts and faith, with Alex’s devotion to one, getting ever so slightly blurred.
In his debut feature, writer/director Luis Tinoco beautifully manages to look up to the stars, as well as into our souls. He uses the space of this single location to superb effect, a bubbling hub of frenzy and focus as Alex works away. Special effects are carefully added to flesh out the surrounds and connect this room to the wider world. The mounting incidents are paced superbly, adding tension while mining Alex’s professional and personal drama. Special mention must be made for the emotive orchestral score from Arnau Bataller that makes the film soar.
Beyond a few supporting faces (and voices), the single-location feature relies largely on a single actor, Andrea Trepat. A layered and moving performance, she imbues Alex with a a barely suppressed giddy intensity for what she does, as well as the internal weight and conflict over what it has cost. Veering between focus and frustration she deftly draws out our empathy for her plight. It’s a performance that truly underscores the ethos of the film. How the pursuit of knowledge comes at great personal sacrifice, and how truly difficult a choice between head and heart can be.