Acclaimed Russian documentary filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky makes water the focus of Aquarela, a lyrical and politically charged work filmed in several locations across the globe.
Aquarela opens on an expansive Siberian lake, frozen solid but starting to melt in places. A small team of locals use home-made equipment to painstakingly winch a car out of the ice. We watch them gradually assemble the equipment, a system of levers, pivots and pulleys that requires three men running in circles. Once the car eventually surfaces, the men’s attention shifts to another car speeding across the ice in the far distance. They shout warnings, but it is no use. The car crashes through the ice. It is horrible, heart-in-mouth footage, and casts a very grave and deliberate shadow over what is to follow.
And what follows is water. Unnarrated shots of water, in different forms, from different angles. We see icebergs melt and collapse into the sea, over and over again. We see the sea itself, in every conceivable permutation. Sometimes it is underscored by Eicca Toppinen’s heavy metal soundtrack, other times just the sounds of the ocean. The water becomes hypnotic, a blank ever-changing canvas on which to project one’s own sentiments.
The finale of the film brings Kossokovsky to America, to where there is a burst dam and a terrible storm hitting the streets of California. The shots from here are incredible: slow pans along empty roads, palm trees buffeted and uprooted by the wind, the ground sodden, rain flying everywhere. Most of Aquarela takes place at sea, or on the icebergs, away from people. But in the California section we see the developed world subsumed by water, human structures without a human in sight. It is apocalyptic.
Kossakovsky’s film is not an easy watch, but it is a rewarding one. It can seem both passive and demanding, open to interpretation but fixed in its environmental agenda. There is so much more to the planet Earth than just humanity, and Aquarela is a timely and singular reminder of this fact.
Image: Stine Heilmann