Sydney Film Festival 2012

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

My Sydney Film Festival has started with Viktor Kossakovsky's

¡Vivan las Antipodas! a German/ Netherlands/French co-production starring 8 Antipodean situations in Botswana, Russia, Chile, Argentina, China, Hawaii, Spain, New Zealand. I should say locations, but that doesn't quite grasp the sort of cinema this film presents. The vision of location is as a place that is immense, unequivocally of itself, but nonetheless, and in some sense against all the odds, inhabited. So, location plus situation perhaps. Shanghai is really the only exception to the power relation between landscape and human = situation. he particularities of people, and the animals that they live with, invest each landscape with situation. Shanghai is the place where the massive intensity of the vision is evoked by the sheer mass of people, the grey pollution of the urban sky, and the noise. In my screening someone got up to complain of the noise levels in the Shanghai sequences, but these were surely intended. Elsewhere in the film, long shots and steady panoramas contend with medium close ups of domestic drama and interior human (and dog) life. There is a man who herds cats (he also herds sheep and they are significantly better behaved), but he doesnt work in a University. There are the brothers who run a toll point on a small ferry/bridge in Argentina. They notice everything and know everyone, they understand the different sounds of the toads and the movement of ants, and they love joking about women (they dont seem to have one living with them so perhaps that's as close as they get), they are friendly but wont go so far as to lend a saw to a customer. Their antipode is Shanghai, where the film-maker concentrates on the men running the ferry across from Pudong.    No close and familial animal connections here, except the proximity of men on mopeds and motorised trolleys bearing uncovered pig carcasses to market. The market sequence is the most evocative I have seen of China's remaioning street markets.

Each place is antipodal to another. Sometimes this produces examples of contrast, sometimes of similarity and occasionally of enormous time shifts in the life of the planet. Extraordinary footage of volcanic lavae flowing down the mountain on Big Island, and the presumed death of a pet dog, and then we turn upside down and  discover the tranquil volvcanic granit of Spain, populated by butterflies, fungi, and newts. The film announces that antipodes are rare as so much of the planet is covered in ocean. Some underwater shots (the lion drinking was brilliant) and the stupendously dogged vision of humans dealing with a beached whale in New Zealand, suggests another film might be needed on the antipodes of ocean life on a wet planet.

Stephanie Donald

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