Aquarela, directed by Victor Kossakovsky, is a revolutionary new avant garde documentary about the role that water in its various forms has in our world. Although this is a challenging film, even for the most dedicated lover of experimental cinema, it is ultimately a rewarding and meaningful experience that is unlike any other you will see on the big screen in 2019.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this movie is that it was shot at 96 frames-per-second and will be projected in select theaters at 48 fps, double the normal rate of 24 fps. The result is a hyper-realistic image quality that tricks the eye into thinking that something is amiss. Though this may be little more than a distracting gimmick to the average viewer, it will effectively immerse cinephiles even further into the film, creating an even greater awe for the natural beauty of the world.
The thing that is likely to put off the average viewer of this movie is that the narrative is thin. Kossakovsky allows the water (and the people who interact with it) to tell their own story, not using narration or interviews to create a narrative. That said, a natural narrative thread forms, and even though it is strongest in the first act, it is enough that the film stays interesting and is able to deliver its message.
The cinematography in the movie is absolutely brilliant, some of the best of any nature documentary of not just this year, but also this decade. However, this film isn’t just pristine shots of flowing water and drifting glaciers. Over the course of the movie, it shifts more and more to focusing on the dangerous nature of water, particularly if humans continue on the same track of causing pollution and climate change.
Kossakovsky’s film is undeniably extremely political, telling a powerful environmentalist message with few words. One of the few spoken lines in the movie discusses how the ice is melting three weeks earlier than usual. This single line causes the whole film to snap into place, transforming the images from simply showing water to almost showing something that is alive.
Yet Kossakovsky doesn’t stop there — Aquarela also explores the consequences that environmentally destructive actions have on the fellow man. The most compelling portion of the movie features a rescue crew, pulling sunken cars (and occasionally the falling person) out from under the frozen water that has been cracking unexpectedly. The emotional weight that these moments have is unexpected, especially from a movie like this.
The use of sound is also highly impactful. Large sequences of the film feature only diegetic noises, of glacial ice cracking or waves crashing, which lets the audience appreciate both the majesty and power of what they are seeing. Other sequences effectively utilize a heavy metal soundtrack, which effectively heightens tension and lends the movie a sense of urgency.
Aquarela is truly magnificent, and quite likely one of this year’s most essential films. This is a viewing experience that demands to be seen on the biggest screen with the best sound possible (and in 48 fps if available). While this may not catch on in its initial theatrical run, it is sure to have a long life ahead of it as a mainstay in science museums and other educational environments.
Aquarela is now playing in theaters.