A documentary that would only be a shadow of itself away from the cinema screen.



Victor Kossakovsky is a Russian filmmaker who was born in 1961 and in his case the term filmmaker encompasses not only directing but contributing as photographer and editor. Although he has been making films since 1994, I believe that I am correct in saying that the release here of Aquarela is the first time that we have seen his work (one reason for that may be that this documentarist often makes features of less than standard length and short films too). Despite his substantial output over the years, it might have seemed brazen to dedicate Aquarela to such a luminary as that monumental and adventurous director Aleksandr Sokurov but for the fact that Kossakovsky's film is itself such an astounding piece. To describe any film as unforgettable sounds like hyperbole, but it is undoubtedly true of Aquarela.


Given my own taste in documentaries, Aquarela is a success against the odds. I have frequently criticised works that eschew commentary and consequently suffer from a lack of shape as well as a dearth of information. However, in taking this particular path Kossakovsky knows exactly what he is doing. Without ever mentioning the fact, he has made a film expressing alarm and dismay over global warming and the consequent state of the planet. That concern being world-wide, no specific identification of locations is necessary and, save for a few phrases (subtitled) from human figures who are glimpsed, words are excluded and are not needed.


The first half of the film shows ice melting (an early comment that it is doing so earlier than usual counts as the only direct reference to climate change). The scale of this builds up through a breath-taking series of images. Aquarela was shot in the 'Scope format and, if the quality of the visuals is equal to that of pictures in an art gallery, it also means that this is a film that can only be experienced properly in a cinema. Hardly less important in creating impact is the music score by Eicca Toppinen and, indeed, the sound generally. Aquarela is a work of art and seeing it is an experience, awesome but deliberately uncomfortable. At the outset and on three later occasions, the music unleashes the full impact possible only in heavy metal. This underlines the menace of what we are seeing but, being an assault on the ears, it could drive some viewers from the cinema. Equally, the film's second setting, that of the ocean, yields visuals that could be insupportable for anyone prone to seasickness.


The only doubt that I have about Aquarela is the issue of whether or not its assault on the audience goes so far as to be counter-productive. The last quarter incorporating shots of urban flooding (Miami at the time of Hurricane Irma I am told) is properly devastating and clearly connected to the theme of the film. But, if the turbulent high seas featured in the middle section are a further sign of the consequences of global warming, such images could exist apart from that. To mention that may seem like a very small point, but it adds to the sense that in bombarding his audience Kossakovsky may have become a touch self-indulgent and that could fuel in some viewers a sense of resentment. It's also the case that at the close Kossakovsky seems indecisive as to which shot would best end his film. But, if some people will find Aquarela too much to take even perhaps to the extent of walking out, I can only repeat that in spite of that this is art and unforgettable art at that.




Dir Victor Kossakovsky, Pro Aimara Reques, Heino Deckert and Sigrid Dyekjaer, Screenplay Victor Kossakovsky and Aimara Reques, Ph Victor Kossakovsky and Ben Bernhard, Ed Victor Kossakovsky, Molly Malene Stensgaard and Ainara Vera, Music Eicca Toppinen.


Participant Media/BFI/ Film/Aconite Productions/Danish Documentary/ARTE-Park Circus.
89 mins. Germany/UK/Denmark/USA/Mexico/Greenland. 2018. Rel: 13 December 2019. Cert. 12A.