Synopsis: Water and ice are shown around the world, in all of their many powerful forms.
Director: Victor Kossakovsky
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: It’s nice to see movies for free. There, I said it. I like that, as a one-man band critic I’m afforded the great opportunity to watch films in theaters for free and then get to write about them for everyone to read. I feel that part of doing this work and committing to it is seeing everything that comes your way, even if it feels outside of your comfort zone. Those that review only mainstream films or projects that are easy to consume lack a well-roundness that gives their critical eye a sharper focus. So yes, you should see the Martin Scorsese film, but you should also be getting your butt out of bed early on a Saturday morning to see whatever kids movie is screening at 10am or watching an independent film no one in your peer group has heard of. That goes double for documentaries, a genre that’s easy to forget about until the end of the year rolls around and you only have to focus on the five nominees vying for the Oscar.
Part of the benefits of reviewing films is that often we have the option of screening the movie at home or watching it in the theater. I almost always opt for the theatrical experience because I feel that’s what the filmmaker was making it for when they started out. With evenings getting packed, though, and weekends having more time available I’ve been getting used to watching upcoming releases from the comfort of my own home/sweatpants. It doesn’t come close to seeing it a theater but at least I’m able to take it in in some form, right?
There was a dilemma facing me when the Aquarela screening was rolling around. I could have screened it at home but then we were teased that the movie was going to be shown in a high-resolution presentation, allowing for a superior moviegoing experience. Though my gut was telling me this was one I could get by with seeing when I had 90 minutes to spare, I am, after all, a sucker for all the bells and whistles a reclining seat and state-of-the-art sound system can ring. Thus, I decided to forego the home viewing and trek out to watch this documentary on the big screen. I should have trusted my gut.
I honestly don’t know where to even start this review…which is maybe why I’m only beginning to talk about the film four paragraphs in. Director Victor Kossakovsky has offered up a beautifully shot but gratingly dull doc that is 99% dialogue free and completely lacking in narrative. Though filmed at a rate of 96 frames per second (fps) when most movies are shot at 24fps, the life-like clarity brought to the images is totally missing in every other aspect of the film. It’s a movie that’s all establishing shots; impressive to look at for a while but quickly becoming a gigantic bore. I don’t need a cut and dry narrative in my films, especially in a documentary which is allowed to be a bit more free-form, but I do need to feel there is some point, some direction, some goal, to what I’m watching.
That’s not to say there aren’t occasional spots where the movie comes to life. There’s a sequence near the beginning following a team of workers trying to retrieve a car that has fallen through the ice. As they go about their process to pull the sunken vehicle from the icy waters, we see other cars in similar peril racing across a thawing lake hoping not to be swallowed by an expanding fissure. Kossakovsky doesn’t stay in one place too long, though, and without any fanfare we’re watching icebergs float, crash, bob, or just stay motionless while the camera lingers around their massive widths. Only when the camera ventures underwater and the view blessedly changes will you snap out of the sleepy trance Kossakovsky has cast over you.
Your eyes will start to look for something, anything, that is happening on screen to focus on. Any time the perspective changes or the landscape alters there’s the hope of something greater to come but it’s not to be. Sure, I guess you can say Kossakovsky is tracking water from its most solid state at the opening to its airy etherealness as it vanishes while cascading off of Venezuelan waterfall by the end. The problem with all of this is nothing about these images is moving or inspiring. The filmmaking (aside from the frame rate) doesn’t seem particularly difficult or boundary pushing and I have no clue how the movie was edited into what it wound up being. Every image looks like a screensaver to me.
There’s a fear on my part with these heady movies that I’m missing the point or failing to rise to the challenge posed by the filmmaker but with Aquarela I don’t see a line in the sand (or water, as it were) being drawn. The only challenge Kossakovsky poses to his audience is to stay awake for 90 very long minutes. The title, Aquarela, is from the Portugese word for watercolor…which is the most interesting tidbit I could offer you. And to think, I could have skipped a shower and slept through this at home instead of “resting my eyes” at the theater.