This review of Victor Kossakovsky’s ¡Vivan las Antipodas! was originally published on the Doc Channel Blog in 2012 during the True/False film festival.
The most I ask of a documentary is that it makes me think about things in a new way or it makes me see things in a new way. My favorite film of the 2012 True/False documentary festival, The Imposter, definitely does both. And it’s getting proper attention and will be distributed beyond the fest circuit. My second favorite, ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, is a film that shows us things as they’ve never been seen before, and yet because it doesn’t have a narrative it may be thought of as inaccessible. Also, it’s not as blatantly thought-provoking. Regardless, I can’t get it out of my head. Probably because it blew my mind and has taken residency in the spaces it cleaned out.
Director Victor Kossakovsky (The Belovs) doesn’t expect the film to get a DVD release let alone theatrical distribution, and this will be a travesty if that’s the truth. As the documentary community moves further toward encouraging and supporting theatrically released nonfiction – at least this is claimed to be one intent of the changes with Oscar qualification and the nomination process – a remarkably cinematic work like ¡Vivan las Antipodas! can not be ignored. Absolutely stunning in both its photographic mastery and its conceptual design, this film is a spectacular work of art. Put it in a museum, then, but someone please get it shown, and everyone please try to see this in a theater.
Calling to mind such visual masterpieces as Koyaanisqatsi, the Planet Earth series, and even last year’s underrated Life in a Day, Kossakovsky takes us to eight corners of the world, half of which are the antipodal location to the other four – in fantastical terms, the place you’d come out at if you could dig straight through the earth. There are a few consistent “characters” and minor “narratives,” but it’s mainly a pictorial exercise in opposites and composites. What you get are gorgeous, spacious pastoral landscapes in Argentina, Chile, and Russia, the urban congestion and contours of Shanghai, and dazzling nature views of flowing lava in Hawaii, a beached whale in New Zealand, and wildlife in Botswana and Spain.
But this isn’t the stuff of IMAX and Disneynature. While the cinematography alone would be worthwhile by itself, it’s the clever juxtapositions and visual trickery achieved through editing and special effects that make this film so special. Kossakovsky plays with the idea of antipodes, giving us plenty of upside-down shots, reflective bodies of water, horizontal split-screens imaginatively presenting the world as having a literal top and bottom. And we’re shown paralleled views of life and land, what matters in the world and what matter makes up the world.
Much of ¡Vivan las Antipodas! is like a game; it causes us to look closely and from a distance, perusing the frame for clues as to what we’re looking at and how to see things differently after the film is done. It’s the most involving film of the fest next to Abendland, and these are the two docs I’m most excited to watch again and find new pieces and details to explore within each shot and the montage of the film as a whole.