Film Review: “Aquarela” or When Water Strikes Back

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Victor Kossakovsky shoots away in Venezuela. Photo by Stine Heilmann. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Samuel Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner once bemoaned: “Water, water everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink.” Likewise, director/writer/cinematographer/editor Victor Kossakovsky isn’t shown swilling any H2O either in this documentary of sorts, Aquarela. You can be certain, though, he got quite battered, doused, and nearly frozen by his subject matter since the 90 minutes of footage we do get to view is far from a tranquil day on the lake.

Across five countries, including Russia, Greenland, and Mexico, plus a hurricane-wrought Miami, Kossakovsky and his various crews scurry about, capturing the dangers of driving a car on icy lakes, the majesty of miles of frozen terrain, the ferocity and sublimity of sailing on the tossing seas, and so forth. As if they knew they were being filmed for posterity, several icebergs do graceful somersaults as if on command, displeased rains pound relentlessly at mankind and flood the avenues, dogs bark, and rivers flow.

Car trouble in Baikal.
Photo by Victor Kossakovsky and Ben Bernhard. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

This is an almost meditative experience. You feel at times you should be watching Aquarela in lotus position. The overwhelming visuals and the natural sounds of water traveling are blissfully engaging, but then Kossakovsky irrationally pulls you out of his cinematic ode to Nature and her bipolar personality with the truly grating musical posturings of Finnish composer Eicca Toppinen and his heavy metal cello band, Apocalyptica. I was not alone with hands on ears whenever Eicca’s caterwauling pounced from the speakers. Happily, that was not often.

That aural horror aside, please note there is no narration here, no hints to where the film has relocated itself to in each scene, and only a handful of words spoken altogether, but then water knows no boundaries and needs no words.

Elsewhere, however, Kossakovsky has shared his intentions: “I wanted to film every possible emotion that can be experienced while interacting with water — beautiful emotions, along with the unsettling emotions of ecstasy and inspiration, as well as destruction and human devastation.”

The poet Lucy Larcom noted eons ago that “a drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” Miss Lucy would no doubt agree that Aquarela takes a few giant steps in that direction.

(Sony Pictures Classics will release the film on August 16, 2019, in LA and in NY at the Landmark at 57 West, AMC Empire (at 48 frames per second) and the Angelika Film Center (at 48 frames per second). Film was shot at 96 frames per second.)

Brandon Judell has published in The Village Voice, The Advocate, and 50 or so other outlets. He is currently a lecturer at The City College of New York.

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