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    The spiritual significance of water

    ECOLOGY: Fresh from a competition screening at DOK Leipzig, Violeta Paus' short film is a haunting and lyrical look at water pollution and deprivation.

    This is a strange, oddly affecting, and hauntingly beautiful film with little or no precise context to explain the reasons why water sources in Chile are so polluted, drained, scarce or poisoned, other than the lived experience of three women representing the three key ecological threats to safe, abundant water: pollution by industrial process; shortages caused by other industrial developments, and toxic runoffs from massive waste dumps.

    The film opens with the sound of breathing and angelic choirs before a three-way vertically split screen appears with three women staring intently into camera: a young woman, a middle-aged woman, and an older woman – her sun creased features reflective of a hard life spent on a smallholding where groundwater has so far diminished that, we later learn, her goats are dying.

    Not the usual

    The setup marks this as not your usual environmental film. There are no politics or grand global statements. Ecological threats are not shown through beautiful pictures of pristine environments that face a dire future. The loss is already a lived experience. By focusing on the microcosmic, intimate experience of each character, the cracked and caked dried up river bed, a dripping tap, a houseplant covered in toxic sulfur dust, and the vast rubbish dump tumbling down the side of an arid Chilean hillside, speak volumes.

    The spiritual significance of water is underscored by split-screen – like a medieval iconostasis – with steady breathing and arias. But the director never pushes this aspect further – it is there as an (almost) silent witness to the damage we do to the natural world, to the disease and death we are bringing to human beings by our lack of respect of something as fundamental to existence as water.

    We don’t know who these women are; . . .

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    Nick Holdsworthhttp://nickholdsworth.net/
    Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
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