Aquarela (2018)

Aquarela, Victor Kossakovsky’s unforgettable, visionary documentary, immerses you in water in all its forms.

Go With The Flow

by Phil Wilson

Film Title

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Aquarela is definitely a ‘cinematic experience’, but in calling it such is a neat way of sidestepping some inadequate cliches for a remarkable film.

Directed by Victor Kossakovsky, this visionary documentary contains powerful and enthralling footage of water in its dramatic, dangerous and benign forms. There is no commentary and very little dialogue. The footage becomes hypnotic and could be called “immersive” if that isn’t seen as a pun. Its like a very deep, and much more artful, National Geographic project.

Kossakovshy is fascinated by both the power of water and by a feeling for sculptural shapes – particularly apparent in the enthralling footage of the Greenland icebergs. His style is probably influenced by the school of Russian directors (notably Tarkovsky) and perhaps the dramatic early silent films of Robert Flaherty (Man of Aran).

The well-crafted opening scenes are an unexplained sequence of film from Lake Baikal under ice. Cars are being reclaimed from below the melting ice after being driven across and falling through, but there’s no attempt at background, and this is typical of the film.

Even more dramatic is footage of the Greenland icecaps as icebergs are filmed falling off the glaciers amid much loud cracking and drama. The smaller icebergs sink, rise and roll over in the water like whales. Kossakovsky also dwells a great deal on the sculptural beauties of the floating ice which includes footage from a rare and risky dive beneath a berg.

A section of sailing across the north Atlantic in a vulnerable canvas-rigged training ship in a storm shows the pure power of the ocean at its most cruel.

And a sequence of Hurricane Irma in Miami shows water at its most destructive; so the final footage of the Angel Falls in Venezuela comes as a confusing and unexpected relief.

If there are any intended messages here (about climate change), it’s subliminal. A little like the music where composer Eicca Toppinen has to pit his score against the natural drama of the booming of waves and the cracking of falling ice. Nature usually wins.

A doc with a difference and certainly not a film you’ll forget. 

Aquarela screened at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 13 December 2019 in the UK.

Join the discussion