Water Tells Its Own Story–‘Aquarela,’ dir. Victor Kossakovsky, 2019

An elegiac documentary with an urgent message about climate change centers the narrative around aquatic bodies and lets the environment speak for itself

Aquarela, Victor Kossakovsky, movie poster
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WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Water plays a huge role in human lives, but an anthropocentric perspective usually frames its narrative. “Aquarela” allows water to become the protagonist of the film, not the victim. The story is told through various scenes shot across the world, where the documentary centers water’s plight against its most tireless combatants: humans. In Siberia, water laments human action that has led it to melt too early in the springtime. In the form of ice, water can no longer support human life like it used to do, but humans have yet to learn from their mistakes that weakened the ice in the first place. During hurricanes in Florida and Venezuela, water reclaims space for itself amidst the sprawling development and manmade bruises on the landscape. As the aquatic journey traverses the planet, the film’s narrative ebbs and flows with water’s whims to show a multi-faceted character that humans have otherwise taken for granted.

WHO MADE IT: Victor Kossakovsky is an innovative documentary filmmaker from Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 2011, his documentary “¡Vivan las Antipodas!” centered around four pairs of places directly juxtaposed on the planet, was chosen to open the Venice Film Festival. In 1992, he won the Audience Award at IDFA as well as many other international awards for his film “The Belovs,” which followed a day in the life of a rural family in Russia. Throughout his career, Kossakovsky has served as a cameraperson, cinematographer, writer, and editor on many different films, which has granted him a keen eye for all the details of the filmmaking process. His travels throughout Russia inspired him to pay closer attention to the life of water. As he studied its changing colors and movements, he realized that it embodied the full range of human emotions. Ultimately, he created “Aquarela” to document the many feelings that humans can experience through their interactions with water, and portray the different facets that such interactions can take—whether ecstatic, devastating or anything in between. Kossakovsky co-wrote “Aquarela” with Aimara Reques, while Eicca Toppinen, one of the founding members of the Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica, wrote the documentary’s original music.

WHY DO WE CARE: It’s one thing to make a film about water as a substance of particular chemical composition, including the lives that use it and live within it. But, “Aquarela” allows viewers to glance at the life of water itself and marvel at the circumstances in which humans force bodies of water to exist in today’s world. The film depicts water in all of its different forms: from the intricate dances of ice to the sheer force of storming rain and fragile power of ocean waves. And each of these states of water retains one thing throughout the documentary: an intense connection with humans. Mainly, the film presents people as water’s main antagonists that continue to upend its cycles and limit the span of its creativity and vital force. At times, the narrative becomes downright sentimental, yet without sacrificing its subtlety, as it shows water and humans learn and relearn how they must share their space. “Aquarela” appears at an especially important moment when irreversible climate change caused by human activity has exacerbated the impact and frequency of environmental disasters around the globe. “Aquarela” steps in to force viewers to reimagine their relationship with the Earth and its elements because failure to co-exist can only result in a tragedy.

WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: The cinematography flawlessly interwoven with the film’s score is reason alone to immerse oneself in this film. Eicca Toppinen’s soundtrack perfectly encapsulates feelings of anger, fear, determination, and hope for a more empathetic relationship with humans that the liquid protagonist holds within its volume, and shares with the viewer. Meanwhile, the images transport the viewer to each of the film’s remote locations and allow for an overwhelming sensory presence amid the calamities. It’s as if Hurricane Irma drags the viewer along the street as rain and wind pummel streetlights and windows overhead. Or as if the viewer slowly drifts beneath azure ice palpitating with the current’s heartbeat. To fully convince the audience that water lives a life outside of human imagination, it’s vital to fully envelop them in the sounds, colors, and experiences of water. It is masterfully accomplished through vivid, astonishing sound design and some of the most technologically advanced filming techniques available to mankind. Watching this film is an excursion into a new dimension where you have no choice but to completely submit to the sublime force of water and reconsider the way you perceive the all too familiar but nonetheless underestimated element.

Aquarela, 2019
Director: Victor Kossakovsky

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