Victor Kossakovsky’s Aquarela is an absorbing and disturbing spectacle, a sensory film about the climate crisis, and it begins with what might be the soundtrack to the end of the world – a persistent tinkling, crackling, trickling. This is the noise of the ice melting in Greenland and Siberia.
Kossakovsky starts by following a rescue crew whose job is to save cars and people who have fallen through the ice, because these people simply do not understand that it is no longer safe to drive across it. Their rescuers’ voices rise in something like panicky resignation: “What are you doing here? Can’t you see the ice is melting?” We watch cars being dragged out of the icy – actually, not so icy – waters by people who are (terrifyingly) in danger of going through the ice themselves. If this had been in a fictional film, the apparent metaphor about fossil fuel use might have been condemned as too obvious.
Then, as if following an inexorable meteorological logic, the film’s melt narrative shows us the ice cliffs and glaciers starting to collapse, and then the rising water levels represented by oceans roiling like lava. We go to places such as Venezuela, where landscapes are flooded, a Ballardian drowned world, and then to Miami, where storms lash what should be placid consumer avenues and shopping malls.
Aquarela is an excellent film, but there are flaws, which are arguably flaws in the grammar of modern documentary film-making. There is no voiceover, and the locations of the film are only indirectly revealed in the closing credits. I would have preferred to see these places signposted more clearly, because this is relevant information and, without it, these images might become too abstract and lose their immediacy.
I also wondered if some of the extended footage showing the stormy Atlantic was earning its keep. But it’s a movie on a powerfully ambitious scale. Its subject could hardly be more relevant.
• Aquarela is released in the UK on 13 December.