“Aquarela” is simply a marvel to behold.
Simultaneously grand and minimalist, ambitious and challenging to audiences, it’s a piece of cinematic art that’s sure to be polarizing.
On the one hand, its stupendous photography showcasing the overwhelming power of nature will certainly leave some viewers agape.
However, the deliberate absence of either a distinctly human voice or human story thread throughout the film may leave other viewers, well, cold.
That’s right. There’s no narrator, no guide, no one to spell out what’s happening or why. Instead, director/cinematographer Victor Kossakovsky simply lets his cameras roll, inviting viewers to figure out what they’re looking at and how it’s all connected.
People in Siberia working to extricate cars from icy waters. In Greenland, vast sheets of ice exploding from glaciers and collapsing into the water below as they melt.
Enormous waves challenging even the most seasoned of open water sailors and sailing ships crossing the Atlantic. Streets on Miami Beach covered in floodwaters as hurricane-force winds buffet the buildings and bend palm trees to their will.
Dams overflowing in California. Powerful rapids flowing over Venezuela’s Angel Falls. These scenes two things in common: the power of water, and the relative tininess of the humans who nevertheless have a profound effect on its present and future.
Incredible camera work, sound editing
Technically, “Aquarela” is a masterwork of photography and sound engineering. The explosions as glaciers collapse, the cracking of ice beneath workers feet on Lake Baikal, the crashing of the waves, all are delivered in as immersive a manner as possible. They give the water life and voice onscreen in a way that must be experienced first-hand.
Kossakovsky’s approach to the film’s visuals, however, is the real triumph. While most films are shot in 24 fps (frames per second), Kossakovsky shoots “Aquarela” at 96 fps.
What does that mean for the viewer? It means that “Aquarela” captures water’s most vital trait — its continual motion — with jaw-dropping detail.
There may also be an unintended side effect to just how immersive “Aquarela” is. The ebb and flow of the water, the slow-motion delivery of certain scenes combined with the ocean’s sounds, may leave some viewers a little drowsy, especially if the absence of a human protagonist in the film fails to grab their attention.
All that adds up to the need to see “Aquarela” in theaters on the big screen.
Unlike other documentaries which might be just as easily enjoyed at home, this film, due to its unique technical specs, demands to be seen in theaters to achieve the intended effect.
If you love experimental filmmaking and filmmakers who take risks and dare audiences to come along for the ride, give “Aquarela” a chance. The audio/visual experience alone will blow your mind, and the message behind it all is pretty important, too.
Directed by Victor Kossakovsky.
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated PG for some thematic elements