There are some mistakes that first time, low budget filmmakers seem prone to making. The Story of a Satellite could actually be conveyed as a spoof film parodying those issues, were it not so clearly genuine. Welcome to Film School 101.
Alfonso Míguez stars as Rafael, a disturbed young man whose father was killed by a falling satellite. As a result, he always wears a helmet to protect himself from the same fate. One day, a chain of events is set into motion that leads him to believe that his father may actually be alive, somewhere in the world, and that his mother may have faked his death to protect him from the truth. It’s a story that doesn’t really start until the 15/20 minute mark, and one that isn’t really clear throughout, but it’s present nonetheless.
Interestingly enough, my two main problems are actually pretty idiosyncratic compared to what one would usually take issue to in a film. The first is the sound design. The Amos Sisters insist on filling their movie with hissing radios, static, and analogue noises from 1960s equipment. The godawful mixing brings these elements to the surface layer, and means that there’s a constantly grating cacophony of un-melodic sound. Even worse is the ‘whizzing satellite’ noise that becomes a repeated refrain throughout much of the film. It’s super loud, super intrusive, and very annoying. At alarming regularity, this ear-piercing high pitched scream blares out of the cinema surround system. Every time, I had to grit my teeth harder to prevent myself from just walking out of the screening. The film seems to be doing its best to piss its audience off with a godawful sound design that’s trying to achieve retro charm but ends up sounding like noises from a scrapyard.
an unnecessarily complex affair
The second issue is the dialogue. It’s nonsensical and artificial in general, but the insistence on the phrase ‘son of a Sputnik’ as an exclamation is incredibly grating. It’s said again and again, to the point where sighs could be heard across the audience every time it was uttered. It’s just common sense to avoid doing this: having a character use a catchphrase is one thing, but making the catchphrase something that is pointlessly uttered an unimaginable number of times is something completely else.
What’s more, The Story of a Satellite is an unnecessarily complex affair. In the Q&A after the screening, the Amos Sisters concluded that they like to make the audience work rather than spoon-feeding them. And, I agree, in most cases this is the right way to do things. Think of a film like Mulholland Drive – a lot of its perfection comes from the trust it places in the audience to interpret what’s going on in their own minds. With The Story of a Satellite, however, the story is unremarkable: it’s simple, one-note, and largely impact-less. Padding out the narrative with pointless snippets of pretentious fluff, accompanied by ear-piercing static distracts us from the story – making us work to figure out what’s going on. But it’s not work that’s worth doing: clouding a feature in obscurity is not worth it for obscurity’s sake, which is what the Amos Sisters don’t seem to understand. When viewers have to untangle a web of mysteries, ambiguity becomes an asset. When you flood an unexceptional movie with ambiguity for no other reason than to make the audience think, however, then you’ve followed the wrong path for a long time.
So, at the end of the day, what are you left with? An unbearably pretentious, vapid mess filled with ear-piercing sound, irritating dialogue, an unoriginal yet somehow incomprehensible storyline, and virtually nothing to like save for some nice visual framing. Avoid it at all costs.
Image: The Story of a Satellite