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Originally published Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 3:05 PM

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‘Watermark’ documentary shows the beauty of decay

A 3.5-star movie review of “Watermark,” a visually stunning documentary that emphasizes the beauty and strangeness of decay in the 21st century.


Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3.5 stars

‘Watermark,’ a documentary by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky. 91 minutes. Rated PG for some smoking images. Varsity.

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The documentary team that made 2007’s “Manufactured Landscapes” created this visually stunning follow-up film, which emphasizes the beauty and strangeness of decay in the 21st century.

Like the previous film, “Watermark” begins with a lengthy, almost abstract sequence that records repetitive movements, which seem to ache to tell a story. But the longer you look, the less you see in conventional narrative terms.

Whether it’s a vision of manufactured hell (the endless Chinese factory that opens “Manufactured Landscapes”) or a freakish force of nature (muddy surf appears to rise above a border town in the opening of “Watermark”), the movements are spinning out of control.

Local observers (and other native speakers) are used to comment on the images of massive devastation.

Cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier’s swooping cameras, which appear to obey no laws of gravity, go on to record the construction of a skyscraper-high Chinese dam, the cracked-mud desert where the Colorado used to flow, the toxic clutter of a desert town, the water-plundering tanneries of Bangladesh.

And when it comes to California and its water resources (or lack thereof), there’s more than a faint echo of “Chinatown” and its deeply pessimistic “Forget it, Jake” finale. Forget it? Not these filmmakers.

They’ve found a way of serving up these images without seeming callous or exploitative or preachy. Climate change is never just a theory to them. It’s as clear as a water shortage or a dried-up lake that used to supply a village with abundant fish.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com



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