If, like me, you stay up watching those 10 hour Youtube compilations of giant waves and have recurring dreams of cities, mountain ranges under water, then Aquarela is a delight beyond your wildest hopes.
Dedicated to the spirit of water, whom the producer credits with allowing the production to happen, Aquarela clocks in at a restrained 89 minutes of surging, thundering, geysering, hypnotic water. Aquarela isn’t all sound and fury though: a slow shot of cranes hunting frogs in a flooded cemetery is one of its most serene and beautiful moments.
Director Victor Kossarkovsky dedicated this film to Alexander Sokurov (director of Russian Ark) and echoes his taste for the monumental. Except in two sequences, there are no people in the film, the whole energy and drama of it coming from the intensity of the footage. This ranges from hurricane-battered cities to desolate, sundering ice mountains. The cinematography is more reminiscent of narrative painting than nature documentary, with Caspar David Friedrich and Brueghel both clear influences. Counter-intuitively, I am more reluctant to give away details of what actually happens that I would be with a more narrative film; suffice it to say that the film avoids trite messaging about Global Warming in favour of vast, dumb psychodrama. The opening scenes, set on a frozen Lake Baikal, come closest to having human characters although they act feverishly and silently, battling the ice as it thaws. In one of these intense sequences it appears that someone actually dies on camera. Kossarkovsky has not made public his reasoning in retaining this footage and some viewers will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable with it.
The film has now been picked up for international distribution by Sony and is almost certainly coming to a giant screen near you. With a frame rate of 96 frames per second (i.e. double the frame-rate of The Hobbit) it is essential to see this in a cinema, on as big a screen as possible. You should also aim for screening with a state of the art audio: in the screening I attended, chairs vibrated with the crashing of water from a burst dam. The music, always dramatic and adding hugely to the fun of it all, ranges from Beethoven and Messiaen to cello metal band Apocalyptica (for a taster see here).