Documentary Review: “Aquarela” overwhelms with images, ignores “story”


The guiding ethos of “Aquarela,” by the Russian documentarian Viktor Kossakovsky, is water, in all its forms, reminding us who Earth really belongs to and the warnings water is giving us.

Men — Russians, apparently — struggle with winching a sunken station wagon from a frozen lake that is usually frozen solid “three weeks longer” than they’re used to. It’s tedious work, shown at excruciating length. It’s also darkly comic, with tragic undertones. We see this work in the foreground as behind them, SUVs dash across the too-thin ice, crashing through it off-camera (an attempted rescue fails).

A Greenland glacier (no locale is identified on screen, and there is no narration) rumbles and CRACKS and calves off icebergs, and we’re shown the underside of these mountains of ice underwater, and how it dwarfs a 60 foot cutter–rigged ketch used in the production.

That ketch, with an intrepid crew of two, experiences “Lord, thy sea is so great and my boat so small” in thunderous, rolling seas, some of the most striking sailing footage ever captured.

Waterfalls, floodwaters overwhelming Third World villages and a dam in the American West, a hurricane pounding Miami, there’s water water everywhere, and we’d better watch out for it and take care of how we pollute it.

Anyway, that’s what I took from “Aquarela.” Lacking narration and scene-setting intertitles, the viewer is overwhelmed with images of our Waterworld, presented in mesmerizing detail (super high resolution projection is available in some theaters) without explanation, nature’s beauty and power for their own sake, with humanity’s hapless efforts to cope with it.

It’s stunning stuff. But lacking a story, per se, and with no narrative drive, “Aquarela” is almost sleep-inducing, like a loop playing on super-high-resolution video on the screen.

Kossakovsky and his crew bowl us over with images which would make glorious second unit footage on a movie with an actual story to tell. “Aquarela” hasn’t enough shape to its water to recommend it as a stand-alone feature.


MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements

Credits: Directed by Viktor Kossakovsky. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:29

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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