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‘Watermark’ examines worldwide utilization of water resources

Date: 7/23/2014

Two surprising films are featured in this week’s movie column.


I have to admit that I wasn’t initially sold on a documentary about water and the physical impact it has on the landscape of the planet, much less our own lives, but my doubts were unfounded.

A collaboration between filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier with photographer Edward Burtynsky, the film looks at water in 10 countries. The film is at times abstract, beautiful, inspiring and disturbing.

While some people might see this to be another volley in the issue of climate change, it is far more than that. It establishes that water is a finite resource that naturally and constantly goes through cycles of renewal and cleansing. Mankind over the last 11,000 years – since the last Ice Age – has sought not just to use water but to bend it to humanity’s will.

One of the first examples is how water from the Colorado River has been diverted from its natural flow to Mexico in order to irrigate the Imperial Valley, a desert. The result is the Colorado River delta is now arid, which has changed the topography and the culture of that region.

An interesting comparison is seen in China as the film shows the construction of a huge hydroelectric project that includes an immense dam. This sequence is in stark contrast to rice farmers who have an age-old system of irrigation for their rice paddies that are built on terraces on the sides of hills.

The significance of water is shown to be beyond just our physical needs when the film documents a huge pilgrimage in Indian to the Ganges River where millions of people go to bathe, washing their sins away.

After watching this film, I guarantee that you will never again turn your tap without hesitating a moment thinking about the significance of water.

Under the Skin

I was fairly surprised to see this limited release art house science fiction film prominently displayed at the Red Box, but that I’m sure is testimony to the star power of Scarlett Johansson.

It is certainly not science fiction in the typical Hollywood vein. Its slow pacing and often frustrating editing certainly distinguish it from the usual space opera.

The story slowly unfolds deliberately and requires the full attention from the viewer. The film opens with a man dressed in motorcycle racing gear delivering the body of a young woman to an all-white room. There Johansson’s character – there is no name – stands naked. She methodically takes the clothes off the dead woman and puts them on.

The next thing we know she is cruising Glasgow, Scotland, in a white minivan, striking up conversations with young men under the pretense of asking for directions. Several of them take her up on her offer of a lift. If they flirt with her she takes them back to a mysterious black room supposedly for sex.

That is not what happens.

Reportedly many of these scenes involved people on the street – not actors – and shot with hidden cameras. They didn’t realize until after the shot was complete what had happened.

Johansson is clearly some sort of alien. What exactly is her mission and who is the man on the motorcycle is never clearly told to the audience. She only seems to come alive when she believes she has successfully caught someone.

Seeing her image in a mirror after trapping another victim, Johansson’s character has a major revelation and for the rest of the film she attempts to escape her purpose and blend in with the human population.

There are moments in this film that are absolutely brutal in story and image. There are moments that are profoundly disturbing. I can’t say that I enjoyed the film enough to watch it again, but I admired much of it.

At times the editing is amazingly pretentious, though, and the film takes on the attitude of art with a capital “A.” Luckily for the production, its strengths out-weighed its flaws.

At the center is Johansson’s performance. Although she has dialogue, in many ways hers is a silent performance and the actress does very well. She has shown an interest in a variety of roles and this one is certainly one of her most adventuresome.

If you’re watching this film you have to forgive the director for his excesses and pay close attention to the subtly unfolding story. If you do, you may be as impressed as I was.