The fantasy of being able to dig a hole all the way to Australia was one that sparked the imagination of many a child. Now, thanks to Russian filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky’s ¡Vivan las Antipodas! (2011), we can embark on our own ethnological voyage through the Earth’s core and observe those who live “upside down”. With around 70% of the planet covered by water, an antipode can be difficult to find. Drilling a series of straight lines through the centre of the Earth and allowing his camera to glide back and forth, Kossakovsky allows us to examine the disparities and similarities between his four chosen pairs of antipodes.
We observe a lonely shepherd who lives with a horde of gregarious cats in the picturesque environs of Patagonia whilst his antipode, an elderly Russian woman, carves out a solitary existence next to Lake Baikal in Siberia. Then there’s a pair of bumbling bridge operators in Entre Rios. Their discussions shift from rural observations to how it’s China’s turn to rule the world – with Kossakovsky’s camera tilting upwards to view an upside-down image of Shanghai, with its frantic, rain drenched streets a startlingly contrast to the serene sunset of this Argentinian idyll. Challenging the way in which we perceive the world, this evocative and profoundly beautiful documentary is visually reminiscent of Ron Fricke’s superb Samsara (2011).
Pure observational cinema, the Kossakovsky’s film eschews conventional interviews and narration, instead allowing his subjects to perform naturally in front of the camera – only interfering to allow Alexander Popov’s subtle score to rouse the action momentarily before he turns the Earth on its axis, using a series of intelligent match cuts to flip the globe like a hour glass and giving those on the other side of the world their chance to shine. A devotion to symmetry (epitomised by the film’s palindromic moniker) and the continual deployment of one-point perspective makes for a series of meticulously framed images, ranging from the ominous glow of a tempestuous volcano to the tranquil sunsets of South America.
Kossakovsky’ humanist sensibilities and informal, lyrical approach allows the audience to deduce their own conclusions. However, the subtle geopolitical subtext of this pyschogeographical study of the world is more than a simple ethnological examination. A visual poem about the ridiculous notion of nation and the invisible construction of boundaries we create, ¡Vivan las Antipodas! may not outright question the sociopolitical motivation between flag waving and the ideological upshot of ‘nations’, yet this playfully inquisitive approach certainly allows the viewer the opportunity to observe the similarities across our species in a hypnotic and enlightening manner.