Film Review: AQUARELA (Denmark/Germany/UK/USA 2018) ****

Aquarela Poster

Water is the main protagonist, seen in all its great and terrible beauty. Mountains of ice move and break apart as if they had a life of their own. Kossakovsky’s film travels the world, …See full summary »


Viktor Kossakovsky (as Victor Kossakovsky)

A visual feast, the documentary AQUARELA, the title derived from the Portuguese word of ‘watercolour’ is about the precious commodity of water.  The doc is shot in 96 frames-per-second (rather than the usual 24fps), which gives the images a visceral feel.

From the press notes, it appears that the filmmakers are proud that there are no talking heads or preaching.  But, even without words, it is impossible to know where each segment is shot, unless one stays and notes the closing credits.  The icebergs that glide off are of Greenland and the beginning ice lake is in Siberia and it would be informative if the audience be told these locations.

On display in AQUARLEA are these incredibly shot ice/water set-pieces.  Off the Greenland coast, icebergs glide like sculptures through the bays.  On a trans-Atlantic trip, a yacht faces 30-ft. waves.  California’s Oroville Dam overflows, flooding communities downstream.  Hurricane Irma batters Miami streets, rendering them surreal.  Then there’s Venezuela’s Angel
Falls, the world’s tallest continuous waterfall, with a plunge of 2,368 feet.

The arguably best sequence which arouses ones curiosity, is the first with a few men wearing orange outfits looking through the ice.  It takes a while before it is revealed that a car under the ice is what these men are looking for.  The men speak Russian (for those who can recognize the language.)  In one case, the car has just sunk and they pull out two men from under the ice  These are things many have not seen before.  The scenes are nothing short of fascinating.  One of the rescued mentioned that the ice melted which should not have been melted till 3 weeks later – clearly a case of the effects of global warming.  The lake is Siberia’s frozen Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest fresh water lake.  Visitors come from around the world to witness its spectacular fissures and cacophonous sound that occur when the ice melts.  But rapidly changing temperatures have shifted the seasons.  When the thaw unexpectedly comes three weeks early, drivers are caught off guard, their cars plunging into the lake while they cross it. 

The filming of both Hurricane Irma and the yacht facing the enormous waves are impressive.  But nothing can top what comes after the little yacht sailing by the towering icebergs along the coast of Greenland.  See the image attched to this review.  It is a magnificent sight.  What follows is truly astronomical.  An avalanche occurs and the ice collapses i to the sea with waves engulfing the vessel.

AQUARELA is my pick for one of the best documentaries of the year.  The achievement in filming technique alone – for example how the camera could be kept so still during a hurricane or waterfall is indescribable being words.  There should be a doc on how these efforts are achieved.  But AQUARELA is pure cinematic delight and comes complete with the all-important message of environmental conservation.  


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