¡Vivan las Antipodas!


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Vivan Las Antipodas
"Kossakovsky takes his time to drink in the visuals and uses his camera creatively to transport us from place to place."

With its beautifully captured nature photography and humanist sensibilities, Victor Kossakovsky's documentary is a visual and emotional treat that celebrates both the world's natural landscapes and those who walk upon them.

The conceit of the film is to consider antipodal populated points on the earth's surface - places that, if you were to stick a giant knitting needle through the world, are directly opposite one another and which are a lot rarer than you might think because of the size of our oceans. Notably, it begins with a quote from Alice In Wonderland, indicating from the outset that this is going to be a good deal more quirky than your average slice of National Geographic 'nature porn'.

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Abel and Orlando Perez are brothers who mind a bridge in the pastoral countryside of Entre Rios, Argentina, charging those who come over a small fee for the privilege. Obviously aware of the idea behind the film - yet seemingly unaffected by the presence of Kossakovsky's camera - they consider their antipodal opposite of Shanghai, China. Philosophy, it seems, is the perfect side-line for a bridge-keeper.

"I'm like a washing machine," says one. "Any woman can push my buttons." Later they muse on the fact that it's "China's turn to run the planet."

Shanghai is, of course, thousands of miles from this - both physically and figuratively - but despite the 'antipodal' set up, and the huge physical difference between the countryside of Argentina and the Chinese city, Kossakovsky's film suggests a certain level of common ground in terms of broader humanity.

Also captured are the antipodal opposites of Patagonia, Chile, where a sheep farmer attempts to herd cats and addresses his flock by individual names, and the equally rural Lake Baikal, in Russia, where a woman and her daughter go about their daily business. Meanwhile, the constantly changing, dramatic volcanic landscapes of Big Island, Hawaii, come complete with the tiny drama of a man and a lost dog and are paired with a remote town in Botswana, where the main concern seems to be whether or not the local lions will eat the village pets.

Completing the set, are the bucolic and people-free environment of Milaflores, Spain, contrasted with a beach in Castle Point, New Zealand, where a clean-up operation is literally facing a whale of a problem.

Kossakovsky takes his time to drink in the visuals and uses his camera creatively to transport us from place to place. The film is reflective in both senses of the word - sometimes we seem to slip through the earth, so that Shanghai is presented to us topsy-turvy, at others, a split image is used to provide close consideration comparisons.

The music, scored by Alexander Popov, also revels in contrast, with Kossakovsky blending its use with the diagetic sounds of life in the various regions to present a moving portrait - from a single, long take of a bird in flight over the mountains and the sounds of a choir that the Russian mum is part of to the majestic sight of lava spilling across Hawaii and the simultaneously comical and melancholic attempts to remove the dead whale from Castle Point beach.

Kossakovsky's film is contemplative and, like Denis Cote's consideration of man's relationship with animals, Bestiaire, it is as much about what each viewer brings to the film as about the images presented. And although it adopts a stately pace, ¡Vivan las Antipodas! is never dull, thanks mostly to Kossakovsky's constant inventiveness, always offering fresh perspectives, either through the physical angle of shooting or through the interesting juxtaposition of life on either side of the planet. See it on the biggest screen you can.

Reviewed on: 04 Jul 2012
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A documentary looking at four pairs of countries exactly opposite one another: Argentina and China; Spain and New Zealand; Hawaii and Botswana; and Russia and Chile.
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Director: Victor Kossakovsky

Year: 2011

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Germany, Netherlands, Argentina, Chile

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