AQUARELA (2018): Review by FF2 Media

The globe-spanning epic Aquarela, from writer Aimara Reques, is a highly conceptual thesis on water in all its forms, particularly as it is being unsettled globally by climate change. At the pace of the glaciers that are its subject, it sounds the alarm of global warming with an eerie calm. However, this film is a very specific experience that not every viewer will be interested in. (GPG: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto

Most films about global warming try to raise our blood pressure by throwing images and information at us in quick succession. Fast-motion footage of water rising and glaciers breaking apart, graphs of temperatures going up for the past few decades, news clips of world leaders denying anything is happening; that kind of vibe. Aquarela has managed the fascinating feat of instilling the same feeling of terror in me that I feel during films like An Inconvenient Truth, while presenting its audience with only one subject, filmed in real time. Its secret is that this one subject is the only thing it truly needs to create that effect.

While we all know intellectually that Earth is two thirds water, we can often get so wrapped up in our lives on land that we forget the magnitude of this mysterious and absolutely vital part of our planet. Just as we don’t tend to think about the tap water we drink every day, we don’t usually go through our daily routines with an awareness that the Mariana Trench and the Arctic’s glaciers are out there, lurking in the most extreme environments on Earth. But just as climate change is going to make all of us a lot more aware of our supply of drinking water, we’re all about to get a wake up call when it comes to the destructive power of the oceans and the glaciers that are projected to make global water levels rise almost two feet in the near future.

There is literally only one thing that happens in Aquarela—water exists. The opening scene, and the film’s most human-centric, follows a group of people trying to lift a car out of a frozen over lake. In the attempt, a couple of the humans fall in and almost die, reminding the viewer of the lethal power of an excess of water. As the car, an artefact of human society, is retrieved from the pull of the Arctic’s oceans, one can’t help but think about the rest of our technology, the rest of our civilization, being engulfed by water in the same way. As if on cue, the film then shows us real-time footage of glaciers breaking apart, increasing exponentially the amount of water in Earth’s oceans.

The rest of Aquarela is literally just that. We go from the Arctic, the source of the rising water levels, to the places southward that are being affected by this environmental change. At the film’s climax, we’re taken to Miami at the height of Hurricane Irma and are shown the power water can have in the form of super powered storms fed by the warmer air currents of climate change. Despite the change of location though, the basic structure of the film stays the same throughout. Aquarela‘s story is told through long, disembodied shots of the ocean existing, and it shocks by letting its subject awe the audience itself. Aquarela depicts the ocean at its own glacial, tidal pace, and proves that no more is necessary to impress upon people the gravity of our situation.

Most years, there’s a film that everyone clamors to call the most important of the year; the chosen film will be one that calls attention to a non-threatening but vaguely political topic that makes the Academy feel good about itself for lifting up while people on the street get to feel cultured for seeing a movie about Issues. The Shape of Water was that film for 2017, while Green Book was 2018’s. Most likely no one will be calling Aquarela the most important film of 2019, but it may well be nonetheless. If repeated reports from the UN and increasingly extreme weather patterns aren’t enough to get people to act on this issue, perhaps 90 minutes in thrall to the awesome and terrifying power we have unleashed on ourselves could do the trick.

That all said, Aquarela is very much an art-house film experience. There is literally no dialogue, character, or plot. If you want a hero’s journey, there is none in Aquarela. You also won’t find much of an uplifting experience in this reminder of our impending doom. A viewer looking for a story in the traditional sense will want to look elsewhere. To put it in the most direct terms, Aquarela is literally just 90 minutes of water, with occasional heavy metal music. If this isn’t what you want or need, then you should go see something else.

I still recommend Aquarela to those looking for a transcendentally horrifying film, and to people looking for films about pressing issues—there is literally no issue more important than this one. It has almost been one year since the 2018 UN report predicting global crisis by the year 2040, a report which was quickly followed up by a report that gave humans twelve years to avert said crisis. Prince Charles of England has pegged his hopes on just the next eighteen months, referencing a spate of climate summits held by the UN to get the international community (minus America) on the same page to secure a least-worst-case scenario for climate change. We cannot afford to stop thinking about this issue, so if Aquarela could be the thing that re-motivates you to start doing climate activism, or keep doing what you’re already doing, you should absolutely see this film. Aquarela is a must-see for every person for whom the issue of global warming is relevant—that is to say, every human on Earth.

© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto FF2 Media (08/19/19)

Q: Does Aquarela pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

No, because there are barely any humans in this film.

Top Photo: A ship passes by a glacier.

Middle Photo: Ice cracking as the glacier melts.

Bottom Photo: A group of humans extracting a car from the ice.

Photo Credit: Aconite Productions.

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Giorgi Plys-Garzotto is a journalist and copywriter living in Brooklyn. She especially loves writing about queer issues, period pieces, and the technical aspects of films. Some of her favorite FF2 pieces she's written are her review of The Game Changers, her feature on Black Christmas, and her interview with the founders of the Athena Film Festival! You can also find more of her work on her website!
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