Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Running time: 108 minutes
MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Screenings – Fri 3 Aug, 4.00pm; Tue 7 Aug, 6.30pm; Sat 11 Aug 11.00am.
As debate rages as to who whether the Brothers Lumiere or Thomas Edison should get credit for inventing the movie camera, one thing is certain – their collective hearts would swell with pride if they could seen what Victor Kossakovsky had done with light and image in ¡Vivan las Antipodas!
The Russian-born documentarian has created one of the most visually awe-inspiring films since Ron Fricke’s landmark enviro-travelogue Baraka left audiences breathless in 1992. Be it vast frames made still but for the panting of an old dog or swirling aerial images of violent confrontations between rivers of lava and the chill of the sea, Kossakovsky’s lens captures the beauty and complexities of man and natures shared existence.
The premise is a simple one. Kossakovsky imagined how different life would be between one point on the global surface and its polar opposite. Therefore, we enjoy the company of two droll toll collectors living a life of solitude in Entre Rios in the Argentine countryside, only to have the director flip his perspective 180 degrees to its antipodean counterpart – the grand metropolis that is modern-day Shanghai. And so it goes...from a the majesty of Russia’s Lake Baikal region to a shepherd’s ramshackle hut in chilly Patagonia; from the blackened landscape of Hawaii’s volcanic coast to a dusty Botswanan village; and, from the a rocky outpost in Miraflores, Spain, to a beach at Castle Point on New Zealand’s South Island, where a great whale has grounded itself.
After the initial wonder at the images on-screen subsides (it never completely disappears), intellectualising the narrative-free imagery leads to the conclusion that, like Baraka and Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Qatsi’ trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi), ¡Vivan las Antipodas! is most concerned with painting a portrait of mankind as a single entity. Each of the disparate regions and their inhabitants share such commonalities as weather, the curve of the landscape and various co-habitants (the presence of animals and their relationship to man is common throughout). ‘We are one’ may have seemed like a twee message in the hands of a lesser artist, but Kossakovsky handles it with grace and intelligence.
It may be all too ethereal for some. There were some walk-outs during the SFF screening I attended, patrons no doubt expecting a more traditional documentary approach (ie, narration) that states and restates the filmmakers intention. But that wouldn’t have worked in the case of ¡Vivan las Antipodas!; it is a film concerned with man’s experience on the planet and, as such, is best viewed in that context. It asks its viewers to examine their own place in the world by glimpsing the vast sameness of us all, regardless of time and place.
Oh, and for the record, Sydney was never an option for inclusion in ¡Vivan las Antipodas! The point on the map directly opposite the CBD is....well, look for yourself....