Combustible Celluloid
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Written by: Viktor Kossakovsky, Aimara Reques
Directed by: Viktor Kossakovsky
MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements
Running Time: 89
Date: 08/15/2019

Aquarela (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Chronic Water

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Filmed all over the world with very little dialogue and no narration, this documentary shows Mother Nature at her most beautiful and most enraged; it will make humans feel insignificant by comparison.

In Aquarela, documentary filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky travels all over the world to capture the most striking and overpowering images of of water, without narration and with very little dialogue. On a sheet of unseasonably thin ice, cars crack through and land in the icy water below. Giant icebergs groan and crash into pieces as they melt.

Underwater, the icebergs look like rock formations from another planet. A sailboat is buffeted in rough ocean waters. Tidal waves and waterfalls are presented in slow motion, and city streets are shown during violent hurricanes and devastating floods. Ultimately, it's about how frighteningly powerful water can be.

Director Victor Kossakovsky filmed Aquarela in Scotland, Mexico, Russia, Greenland, Venezuela, Portugal and various cities in the U.S., as well as the Atlantic Ocean. He used a special 96 frames-per-second rate, which — in theaters showing the film at 48 frames-per-second — results in a kind of hyper-realistic look, like looking out a window; this technique is disorienting in fiction movies, but it works great for a documentary like this one.

Except for the overall theme of water, and the threat of a changing climate, the segments are not directly connected to one another, and without a story or narration or dialogue, it's easy to zone out on the pretty images. However, Kossakovsky makes an odd choice, employing a bombastic heavy metal music score that sometimes makes it difficult to get in tune with the images; it's jarring and adds a despairing harshness to the things we're seeing.

But overall, Aquarela is a powerful experience, neither hopeful, nor hopeless. It simply asserts that we humans are small and the planet is big. Regardless of political beliefs, or whether one "believes" in climate change, none of it will matter when the waters come.

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