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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

Without narration or a specific story, it's up to each viewer to depict the poetry in the images themselves, but the main takeaway seems to be that Mother Nature, water, ice, and the oceans are powerful forces that make us humans look insignificant. It's both awe-inspiring and terrifying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The movie features some folks helping other folks getting their cars out of the icy water, but otherwise, there are few people on view here, let alone role models.


Car cracks through the ice and goes underwater. Two men climb out, and they yell that a third one 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 man's face. Yelling. Sudden booming sounds. Alarms and sirens. Intense images of floods, storms, etc.


A prominent Pepsi ad on the fence. A shot of a Hilton Hotel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man smoking 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 ultra-realistic feel, like looking out a window, and also with a booming Dolby soundtrack. It contains some intense moments, as when a car crashes through the ice, and two men climb out of the icy water claiming that a third has drowned; a rescue attempt is made, but the man never comes up. A man has blood on his face. There are shocking, sudden booming sounds, loud noises, sirens, and alarms. And the movie has many very troubling images of floods, storms, etc. A Pepsi sign is seen in the foreground of one shot, and a Hilton Hotel is shown. A man is seen smoking a cigarette.

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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 icy 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, it's about how frighteningly powerful water can be.

Is it any good?

Filmed all over the world with little dialogue and no narration, this documentary shows Mother Nature at her most beautiful and most enraged; it will make humans feel insignificant by comparison. Director Victor Kossakovsky filmed Aquarela in Scotland, Mexico, Russia, Greenland, Venezuela, Portugal, and various cities in the U.S., as well as the Atlantic Ocean. He used a special 96 frames-per-second rate, which -- in theaters showing the film at 48 frames-per-second -- results in a kind of hyper-realistic look, like looking out a window; this technique is 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 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. However, Kossakovsky makes an odd choice, employing a bombastic heavy metal music score that 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. But overall, Aquarela is a powerful experience, neither hopeful, nor hopeless. It simply asserts that we humans are small and the planet is big. Regardless of political beliefs, or whether one believes in climate change, none of it will matter when the waters come.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Aquarela's depiction of violence. How did you feel when the man drowned? How is it 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? Did you follow what was going on? Did you find yourself being lost in the images?

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

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