The documentary "Aquarela" opens with overhead shots of what appears to be an iced-over lake, accompanied by a score of headbanging power chords by composer Eicca Toppinen of the Finnish "cello-metal" band Apocalyptica. Viewers of this almost wordless, at times quasi-abstract meditation on the power of water may experience initial disorientation — even confusion — about what they're looking at. But a form, and then a narrative of sorts, gradually emerge.
In the first little chunk of the globe-trotting film, which jumps from Siberia to Greenland to Mexico (and other points) without warning, director Viktor Kossakovsky turns his camera on Russian police who are tasked with fishing out cars from under the ice of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, after drivers have ill-advisedly ventured onto its partly frozen surface.
"Can't you see the ice is melting already?" a cop asks, incredulously, of a couple of numskulls who recently lost their vehicle, having narrowly escaped by swimming out the hatchback. "Usually it melts three weeks later than this," says one of the unfortunate motorists, in a rejoinder that hints at the films' theme: global warming. The shadow of climate change lurks just under the blue watery surface of the beautiful yet unsettling film.
Later, by tragic chance, "Aquarela" happens to catch another car being swallowed up by the lake. One of its occupants is not as lucky as the men in the first car.
"Through the lens of water you are able to experience all known human emotion," Kossakovsky has said, explaining that "Aquarela" is his attempt to capture this metaphorical rainbow — the film, in fact, ends with the image of a real one — whether the emotion be positive or negative.
Yet the documentary, which also spotlights Hurricane Irma, devastating floods, melting glaciers and giant, storm-tossed ocean waves, mostly focuses on the unsettling side, dedicating precious few minutes to such pretty natural wonders as Venezuela's Angel Falls. In large part, its message seems to be: Water is scary. But what we're doing to the planet is even more disturbing.
Filmed in High Frame Rate, a high-definition format that captures images at 96 frames per second, "Aquarela" is a visual tour de force, even though technology does not exist to project the film at a rate greater than 48 frames per second. (That's still twice the rate of standard digital projection.)
But as startling as the crisp and, yes, dramatic images may be, a sense of slight monotony sometimes creeps in after so many shots of ice, calving glaciers, heaving waves, sea foam, rain, snow, fog, mist, etc.
Despite these occasional moments of tedium, however, the film is at once chilling and likely to make your blood boil.