LFF 2018: Aquarela

Mother nature shows off her power in all its glory

Viktor Kossakovsky’s powerful documentary. Aquarela, shares some similarities with 2013’s Watermark, although it approaches the subject from a more immersive perspective. Where Edward Burtynsky’s film examined the ways humans are shaped by and interact with water, Russian director Kossakovsky asks us to pray at its altar in awe of its majesty and power. Hearing the bombastic opening chords of Finnish metal band Apocalyptica blasting the first images onto the screen quickly shows Kossakovsky is no mood to tread lightly.

It’s in stark contrast to his last film, ¡Vivan las Antipodas!, a documentary that was just as poetical and affecting but took a much different approach. Here the director captured breathtaking images at a rate of 96 frames per second, crystallising the raw energy and abstract nature of water in its many states. Aquarela is a documentary that demands to be seen on the largest screen possible in order to absorb yourself into the alien spaces Kossakovsky’s lens explores.

The film has a visceral power that quickly becomes apparent. However, before we are held in rapture by the stadium-sized icebergs collapsing into water, and delve underneath these massive icy structures to observe their strange marble-like design, the struggles of the residents living near to Lake Baikal in Serbia make up the first 20 minutes. The ice is melting earlier than normal and a local rescue crew work to retrieve cars that have plunged into the freezing water, their drivers included. In one incident two men clamber out bloodied and confused, their friend still trapped. We never learn if he made it out alive, but with no evidence of his retrieval shown on film we can only assume the worst.

This first act is different in tone to the following hour, which allows Kossakovsky to settle into the rhythm of his visual poetry. There are no voiceovers, talking heads or title cards, and we only occasionally overhear small snatches of conversation. In the main the camera simply breathes in the beauty along with the obscure, moving from jagged white Greenland terrains, to ferocious deep blue Atlantic waves and the ethereal mists formed by an idyllic looking waterfall in Venezuela.

The time spent in Greenland proves to be the most evocative, not only in terms of its otherworldly appearance, but how it relates to the ecological disaster threatening our world. Watching the ice plummet into the water is intense and unnerving, the huge glaciers thrashing around like giant sea monsters taking their last, dying breath. It’s an area that seems to have a life of its own, the mushy melted ice bobbing up and down on the water’s surface inhaling and exhaling as it eats away at the landscape.

Kossakovsky and Ben Bernhard’s cinematography is outstanding and you can only wonder what lengths they may have gone to in order to capture some of the footage. Sometimes you become lost in the depths of the images onscreen, the shape and textured colours of the ice and water becoming so hypnotic they start to consume your imagination. Other scenes show images of the sea slowed down until it looks like a thick, gloopy, tar-like substance, almost as if we are on another planet entirely.

Throughout, the noises created in the surrounding atmosphere are amplified to further envelop us into these locations (a sound mix that used 118 audio channels). Explosions of collapsing ice sound like detonations and literal ticking time bombs being set off at will by nature in reaction to mankind’s folly. There is no need to point out the climate change message being delivered by Kossakovsky. It’s a film that gives mother nature a starring role on her own stage and she delivers a knock out performance with terrifying conviction.

There are still tickets available to watch Aquarela at this year’s London Film Festival and you can buy them on the BFI website.

To read more of our LFF reviews and news, click here for all our coverage.

Steven Sheehan

Updated: Oct 14, 2018

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