Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Aquarela Movie Poster Image
Powerful docu captures beauty and devastation of water.
  • PG
  • 2019
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The main takeaway seems to be that Mother Nature, water, ice, and the oceans are powerful forces that make humans look insignificant. It's both awe-inspiring and terrifying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some folks help others getting their cars out of the icy water, but otherwise, there are few people here, let alone role models.


A car cracks through ice and goes under water. Two people climb out; they yell that a third has drowned under the ice. There's an attempt to break the ice and rescue him, but it's unsuccessful. (No death actually shown.) Blood on person's face. Yelling. Sudden booming sounds. Alarms and sirens. Intense images of floods, storms, etc.


Prominent Pepsi ad. Shot of a Hilton Hotel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Person smokes a cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Aquarela is a documentary about the immense power of water, demonstrating how humans are insignificant compared to it, especially in this age of climate change. It's a visual spectacle: Shot at 96 frames per second and projected in theaters at 48 frames per second, with an ultrarealistic feel, watching it is like looking out a window. Expect some intense moments, such as when a car crashes through the ice, and two people climb out of the icy water claiming that a third has drowned. A rescue attempt is made, but the third person never comes up. A person is shown with blood on his face. There are also some shocking, sudden booming sounds, loud noises, sirens, and alarms, and the movie has many troubling images of floods, storms, etc. Cigarette smoking is seen.

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What's the story?

In AQUARELA, documentary filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky travels all over the world to capture the most striking and overpowering images of of water, without narration and with very little dialogue. On a sheet of unseasonably thin ice, cars crack through and land in the frigid water below. Giant icebergs groan and crash into pieces as they melt. Underwater, the icebergs look like rock formations from another planet. A sailboat is buffeted in rough ocean waters. Tidal waves and waterfalls are presented in slow motion, and city streets are shown during violent hurricanes and devastating floods. Ultimately, the film is about how frighteningly powerful water can be.

Is it any good?

Filmed all over the world, this nearly wordless documentary shows Mother Nature at her most beautiful and most enraged; it will make humans feel insignificant by comparison. Kossakovsky captured footage for Aquarela in Scotland, Mexico, Russia, Greenland, Venezuela, Portugal, and various cities in the United States, as well as the Atlantic Ocean. He used a special 96 frames-per-second rate, which -- in theaters that are showing the film at 48 frames per second -- results in a kind of hyper-realistic look, much like looking out a window. This technique can be disorienting in fiction movies, but it works great for a documentary like this one.

Except for the overall theme of water and the threat of a changing climate, the movie's segments aren't directly connected to one another. And without a story or narration or dialogue, it's easy to zone out on the pretty images. But Kossakovsky's choice to use a bombastic heavy metal music score sometimes makes it difficult to get in tune with the images; it's jarring and adds a despairing harshness to the things we're seeing. Still, Aquarela is a powerful experience overall. It's neither hopeful nor hopeless. It simply asserts that we humans are small, and the planet is big. Regardless of political beliefs, or whether you believe in climate change, none of it will matter when the waters come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Aquarela's violent/intense moments. How did you feel when the person drowned? How is watching that different from watching a Hollywood movie?

  • What do you think the movie is trying to say, overall? Is its message hopeful? Hopeless? A mix of both?

  • How does this movie compare to other documentaries about climate change? Does it offer new information?

  • How does it feel watching a movie without characters, story, narration, or dialogue? Could you follow what was going on?

  • How are documentaries different from other kinds of movies? Are documentaries always truthful? What do they contribute to the world?

Movie details

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