Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Script: Victor Kossakovsky and Aimara Reques
Running time: 89 minutes
Aquarela takes audiences on a deeply cinematic journey through the transformative beauty and raw power of water. Captured at a rare 96 frames-per-second, the film is a visceral wake-up call that humans are no match for the sheer force and capricious will of Earth’s most precious element.
A wonderful feat of cinematography from the long aerial shots of a landscape that do not look real (especially in the opening title sequence). This use of just setting the camera in one location and capturing what comes before it works so well here. Be it the single shot of a man walking on an ice lake or a piece of a glacier breaking off into the ocean. “Learning” how to cope on its own, submerging and rising as it calms from the breakaway. It is excruciatingly stunning to witness.
For over five minutes we watch a team of men on a lake in Siberia look for something under the ice, possibly fish? Only their limited conversations come through, otherwise, it is silence. The cracks of the ice breaking under them as they work. When the reveal comes of what is beneath the ice, it does cause a genuine surprise. That surprise lasts for far longer than it should when it is revealed what is going on, to devastating consequences. The resulting sequence goes on for longer than it should, but the reason is clear. We should be shocked and appalled at the results. For we are the ones who caused it.
Despite never uttering a word on the subject, the message here is clear. Climate change is happening before our eyes and an encounter at the beginning of the film typifies that fact. The line “Usually it melts three weeks later than this” said by a local in Siberia really hits home in the context of the film. The opening 20 or so minute sequence lulls the viewer into a false sense of what the narrative of the entire film is set to be. Kossakovsky said so as much in his interview with Vox. He wanted to trick the audience into staying as they would be so raptured by that opening, that staying and watching the rest of the film was a necessity.
Music accompanies Aquarela, although it is rarely required. The sounds of glaciers breaking and falling into the ocean and stunning. This is only enhanced by the stillness that came before it. No other sound of what truly sounds like explosions from within the ice as the break and fall apart could improve on what is heard. It needs the silence and the sounds of nature to cement what is happening.
When the metal soundtrack by Apocalyptica does come in after a while, especially in the glaciers breaking away sequence. It assists in showing the chaos that is occurring in Greenland. The drum beats, the deep and heavy strums of the electric guitar. This portion would not be unfamiliar in a horror film. Possibly it is already playing in a horror film before us, it’s just nature that the horror is happening to. As quickly as the heavy, grim music is there, it is gone again, leaving silence. Leaving the viewer to contemplate, but allowing that uncomfortableness to remain.
Victor Kossakovsky’s use of 96 frames per second cause’s scenes such as the glaciers breaking in Greenland to look alive. It is almost too intense for the eyes as they dart about the screen looking for the next small piece to crumble into the ocean. It is fabulous but also entirely too immersive to taken in for the first time. You feel as if you are on that boat in the Atlantic Ocean, watching these humongous waves come again and again. It’s hard to work out if this level of detail has been given to the power and the crushing beauty of the ocean as we see here. It is truly an unparalleled cinematic experience.
Obviously this is Kossakovksy’s intent. We should be pondering the images and sounds presented to us, do we really need to hear someone say something just to make us realise or understand the meaning of the visuals? In truth, yes and no. To reach a wider audience it would have been needed, even if it was spread sparsely throughout. But for those who are content to watch and reflect, it is an utterly brutal joy.
This is a film without any talking heads, which causes the viewer to really focus on the devastatingly beautiful visuals. It also leads us to the only problem of the documentary, its lack of a narrator or verbal argument can be quite jarring to those not prepared for it. Audiences are now used to having a narrator or a talking head shot explaining what we are seeing. So, for those not used to that. Chance is that it will be troublesome to have to sit and reflect on what we are being shown.
While Kossakovksy was patient in making of the film. Sadly, it may be beyond some audiences to be as a patient throughout the 89 minutes run time. They say a picture paints a thousand words and in this case that is very true and with hope, those who find difficulty with the narrative can keep with this experience. Documentaries are often treated as smaller events, made for home viewing. What happens when you strip the whole idea of a documentary down and just show everything instead? What if you made it as cinematic as possible?
Aquarela is a film that has to be seen in a cinema to give the viewer the fullest experience. It is daunting and beautiful, and most importantly worth it. If you can be patient, there is so much to admire in Aquarela. To miss out on one of the only truly cinematic experiences of 2019.
Aquarela is released in cinemas from Friday 13th December 2019.
Cinema listings for Aquarela