Petropolis (U)

Film image
Peter Mettler

The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner14/05/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 43 mins

Beautifully shot and depressingly relevant, Petropolis has an undeniably powerful message but its 43 minute running time and almost total lack of voiceover limit its appeal as a theatrical release.

What's it all about?
Commissioned by Greenpeace Canada and directed by Peter Mettler (Manufactured Landscapes), Petropolis is 43-minute eco-documentary consisting entirely of aerial footage of the Alberta Tar Sands, the world's second biggest oil reserve, in northern Canada. As the camera glides over polluted, devastated landscapes, onscreen captions (adapted from Tar Sands – Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent by Andrew Nikiforuk) deliver occasional nuggets of information, such as: the fact that the project causes as much carbon dioxide as all the cars in Canada; the fact that it's estimated that the mining of all the oil in the region will ultimately create an industrialised area the size of England; or the jaw-dropping revelation that no comprehensive assessment of the megaproject's environmental, economic or social impact has yet been done.

The Good
In the wake of the recent BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Petropolis feels depressingly relevant and it's hard not to be shocked by some of the images, particularly the shots of pipes pumping out toxic-looking brown water or a thick streak of black cutting through a swathe of green. The camerawork is exceptional throughout and Mettler frequently focuses in on a particular detail before pulling back to give you a wider perspective on the surrounding devastation.

That said, many of the images are strangely beautiful, which is extremely troubling on a number of different levels. There's also an appealingly hypnotic feel to the film, all of which is heightened considerably by its soundtrack, consisting of ambient sounds and minimalistic music by Gabriel Scotti and Vincent Hanni.

The Bad
Despite its stunning photography and its undeniably powerful message, it's hard to imagine that Petropolis will have much appeal as a theatrical release, not least because of its 43 minute running time.

Similarly, the lack of substantial narrative (even the captions disappear fairly early on) means that the film is ultimately frustrating in eco-doc terms and would probably work better either as a video installation or as part of a double bill with a full-length feature.

Worth seeing?
Petropolis is beautifully shot and carries a powerful message but it's ultimately frustrating thanks to its 43 minute running time and its lack of narrative.

Film Trailer

Petropolis (U)
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Content updated: 21/09/2018 20:49

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