Anthropologist Carolina Arias Ortiz’s first foray into documentary film making is a deeply personal memoir complete with family slides and naval gazing hyperbole. Rebel Objects, which is primarily about Ortiz’s return to her childhood home of Costa Rica to mend relations with her dying father, aggrandizes the experience through various film making techniques and a heavy reliance on cultural lore.
Despite clocking in at under 70 minutes, Rebel Objects attempts to be two separate documentaries blended thematically. The first film inside Rebel Objects is a History Channel-esque conspiracy theory laden history of the spherical stones that have existed in Costa Rica for centuries. The film even makes constant allusions to their potential extraterrestrial nature. While Ortiz herself does eventually acknowledge the racist undertones in attributing great works of non-white people to aliens, this is included as an afterthought in the last five minutes of a film that has given the conspiracy plenty of credence already.
The second, and better, film within the film is Ortiz’s return home to repair the relationship she has with her father. The anthropology aspect of the film pairs well with these moments. Shots of Ortiz piecing together broken pottery parallels with her reassessing memories from her past. It is just unfortunate that these moments are broken up with the spherical conspiracy theories.
Another misfiring of the film is the black and white cinematography. Ortiz likely made this choice to add a level of mystery when discussing the spheres (she even includes a horror movie score at times) and to invoke nostalgia in the personal exploration moments. While these decisions make sense in paper, they failed in execution. Pictures of the spheres were primarily captured in medium shots or the occasional closeup, but neither of these options provided the contrast needed to accentuate the stones. Instead, the stones became the same color of the surrounding foliage camouflaging them. The black and white photography works slightly better from a nostalgic perspective, but her family pictures being in color made the present-day video footage feel like creating a memory that was never there to begin with.
For a first time creating a movie, Carolina Arias Ortiz attempted to bring a personal and expansive story to the screen. While Rebel Objects ended up being more of a mess than anything, her decision-making process is theoretically sound even if they failed. Rebel Objects is a film that can be skipped, but Ortiz likely has something better in her waiting for a sophomore attempt.