Antipodes has been one of my favorite words ever since I bingoed out with the singular form of the word in a Scrabble game. In its broadest sense, antipode (my word processor only recognizes the plural form, but the singular is acceptable) means “the direct opposite of something else,” but the term almost exclusively applies to geography. Antipodes are points on the surface of the Earth that are directly opposite each other. If you bored a hole straight through the fattest part of the planet from where you are, you’d pop out the other side at the antipode to your starting point.
Chances are you’d wind up in the middle of an ocean since that’s just the way the Earth rolls, but there are several land antipodes as well. “Vivan Las Antipodas!” (2011) is filmed in four sets of these land partners: paired locations in Chile-Russia, Spain-New Zealand, Argentina-China, and Hawaii-Botswana (you knew that last one, right?) It’s a gimmick to be sure, but director Victor Kossavsky embraces it with brio, hopping directly across the globe while striking a playful, lyrical tone.
The film starts in the apparently unspoilt countryside of Entre Rios, Argentina where the central concerns are an aging dog and a rickety toll bridge, then jumps over to Shanghai where the smog clings so low to the ground it’s a wonder anyone can find their way to work. In another pairing, a Hawaiian man bikes across lava beds (slow-moving, semi-solid hot flows, all orange and angry, provide some of the most beautiful images in the film) while a woman in Botswana teaches her young daughter about the elephants and lions that prowl nearby.
As far as structuring devices go, the concept leaves a lot to be desired. Kossovsky stylizes the antipodes as being connected because of this arbitrary geographical oddity, but once could just as easily argue that they’re as far apart as possible along the circumference of the globe. But if your mind is not blown by the basic idea, you’re unlikely to complain much as the movie presents some extraordinary nature photography (along with the congested Shanghai scenes) accompanied by a lively, stirring score by Alexander Popov.
At times the film risks veering into the insipid “We’re all connected, man!” territory that has unjustifiably obsessed so many globally-oriented filmmakers in the past decade, but even when he indulges in the obvious technique of upside-down photography to mark transitions between antipodes, it’s primarily to express a poetic humanism rather than hammering home any particular thesis. He complicates matters by disrupting the apparent harmony between man and nature that powers some earlier passages with the plight of a beached whale and a lost dog, not to mention the pollution-choked streets of Shanghai, an unmistakable marker of man’s industrial myopia.
Overall, the film creates a contemplative space and composes audiovisual symphonies that might remind viewers of films like “Baraka,” though the similarity is superficial. “Antipodas” proudly embraces its thin conceit and molds it into a living sculpture of sky, water, landscapes, and the tiny figures (humans and other animals) that inhabit them. Viewers impatient for the film to “get to the point” may be frustrated. I’m not saying there isn’t a message here, but the journey is definitely more important than the arrival.
The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The interlaced SD transfer has a few weak points, and there are some shots where background distortion is evident with slight camera movements in otherwise mostly still compositions. However, the image quality overall is strong enough. Not great, but gets the job done. A high-def transfer would have been welcome, however, considering the quality of much of the nature photography.
Listeners can choose between 5.1 and 2.0 Dolby options. There’s no real difference between the two. Optional English subtitles support the audio which features many languages; English dialogue is not subtitled.
This Docurama release is strictly bare bones. No extras.
If you require a documentary to state an argument, you might be disappointed with “Vivan Las Antipodas.” If you’re looking for some beautiful nature photography on a globe-hopping journey, this is your movie.