Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
People always say certain movies should be seen on the big screen, but this time we really mean it: If you’re going to leave your house during the next week, make sure it includes a visit to the Meridian to see Victor Kossakovsky’s Aquarela. This is an immersive film experience, and mesmerizing in a theater.
The film is non-narrative, except maybe for the opening sequence, which watches some first responders (I guess you’d call them that) on the melting ice covering Russia’s Lake Baikul, who are trying to retrieve cars and people who have broken through the ice and gone into the water. The film’s other sequences explore water in its various forms: icebergs, the open ocean, a waterfall. Not only are the super-high-definition visuals completely spellbinding to watch, the soundtrack is astonishing. This includes the eerie tinkling of various kinds of ice clinking together, the mysterious booming of whatever the hell is going on with icebergs, and the occasional musical intrusions from Finnish cello-metal composer Eicca Toppinen, whose ensemble Apocalyptica provides both orchestral and gnarly heavy-metal noises.
Kossakovsky, an experienced maker of documentaries, knows what he’s doing. A sequence showing a rescue team pulling a car slowly out of the ice (with an incredible jerry-rigged apparatus) is a straight-up homage to the vision, made a hundred years ago, of the seal being hauled through the ice hole in Nanook of the North. The eerie, unexplained sight of a structure on fire, seen at a distance across the ice lake, is worthy of Tarkovsky. Aquarela is dedicated to Alexander Sokurov, Russia’s modern master of patience and solemnity. And yet it is its own thing, neither commercial nor poetically precious. If you’re prone to dizziness like me, you may have to cover your eyes at times. Otherwise, don’t miss.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.