Venice Film Review: ‘Aquarela’

In titling “Aquarela,” his latest grandiose, sense-pummelling documentary ride, one has to wonder if iconoclastic Russian director Victor Kossakovsky was the tiniest bit annoyed that a certain awards juggernaut from last year’s Venice fest had already taken “The Shape of Water.” That would be the best way to describe what this globe-trotting, at-one-with-the-element enterprise is really about, as Kossakovsky offers a dazzling overview of simple H2O in its shifting array of forms, from the frozen-over Lake Baikal in Southern Siberia to the rains lashing Miami in the midst of Hurricane Irma to the intangible rainbow rising from the tumble of Venezuela’s Angel Falls. A feast of HD imagery so crisp as to be almost disorienting, this is immersive experiential cinema with no firm storytelling trajectory, though viewers can read what environmental warnings they may into its rushing spectacle.

Premiering out of competition at Venice, “Aquarela” may prove the most readily distributable feature yet from Kossakovsky, a prolific cine-poet still best known for 2011’s delightful high-concept travelogue and festival favorite “¡Vivan las antípodas!” Like that film, “Aquarela” matches sincere, open-eyed curiosity about the wider world to awe-inspiring technical virtuosity in realizing it — give or take some dated, spell-breaking musical cues that the filmmaker would do well to rethink. Its natural habitat, of course, is the biggest cinema screen (with the most booming sound system) possible, though the vast viewership that gorges on wow-worthy TV programming like the BBC’s “Planet Earth” would find much to marvel at here.

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