Constructed around an elegantly simple idea but executed with grace and ingenuity, docu “¡Vivan las antipodas!” compares and contrasts four pairs of locations that lie at opposite ends of the globe from one another. The work of multihyphenate Victor Kossakovsky, whose frequently formalist yet poetic docus have something of a cult following, pic could capitalize on its Venice exposure to secure niche gigs in upmarket territories. It won’t turn the world upside down, but it will appeal to fans of quirky, minimalist docus or quasi-docu fare like “Babies,” “Le quattro volte” or “Into Great Silence.”
At some point, every schoolkid wonders where you would end up if you drilled straight through the Earth and came out on the other side. Usually the answer would be somewhere in the middle of an ocean, but this pic explores four pairs of dry-land spots, or antipodes, that lie diametrically opposite each other. Eschewing voiceover of any kind, helmer-lenser-editor Kossakovsky juxtaposes these locales, discovering contrasts as well as resonant parallels. Meanwhile, presumably using a Steadicam rig, Kossakovsky rotates and twists his Red camera in all kinds of directions, to create a skewed view of the world, while digital wizardry blends shots from different places to create impossible landscapes and reflections.
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The first pair of antipodes provides the most dramatic contrast: a secluded ferry across a river in Entre Rios, Argentina, where two brothers collect tolls, and bustling downtown Shanghai. Kossakovsky finds a real pair of non-pro stars in the two tollkeepers, who pass the time bantering about women, discussing geopolitics (it’s China’s turn to run the world now, they agree) and contending with the elements.
Similarly bleak and mountainous, Lake Baikal in Russia and Patagonia in Chile are more alike than different. In Russia, Tatiana Frolova spends time with her visiting daughter Alina, while in Chile, shepherd Rene Vargas communes with a variety of animals, including a fetching clowder of friendly cats and a condor.
Animals feature further, as they do in Kossakovsky’s other films (such as “Tishe!” or “Belovy”), in the third pair of antipodes, the active volcano Kilauea in Hawaii and the village of Kubu in Botswana. Around the volcano, Jack Thompson loses his dog Alias, while in Kubu, local barwoman Lilian Sondano complains about the elephants relieving themselves in the compound. Pic highlights the similarities in color and texture between the black, flowing lava and the elephants’ hide seen up close.
More visual rhymes and reflections surface with the final pair of antipodes, a lichen-encrusted rocky spot in Miraflores, Spain, and the beach at Castle Point, New Zealand, where a washed-up whale suffers its death throes.
Stringent-minded viewers may detect a sentimental, we-are-the-world message in all of this, but that’s not such a bad message to put across, and if it’s intended, it’s done with a light and tender touch. Music by Alexander Popov errs a bit on the bombastic side, and perhaps three antipodes rather than four would have been enough, but Kossakovsky’s visuals are so bewitching, all can be forgiven.
With its formal, whimsical structure, pic is utterly congruent with helmer’s back catalog, which includes studies of the view out of a window over a year (“Tishe!”) and research into all the people who were born on the same day as the helmer (“Sreda”). Even the title, with its palindromic exclamation marks, fits Kossakovsky’s interest in pattern and symmetry.