High Water is a slow-burning Polish drama about the 1997 flood, which killed 56 people. 40,000 people were wiped off in Poland’s worst calamity since World War II. So how did it happen? Why did the water destroy the area?
This six-part Netflix documentary delves into these and other concerns, applying an artistic vision to real-life occurrences during the period. The programme follows three separate people, with the main focus being on Jasmina Tremer, a hydrologist. She is summoned to the town of Wroclaw to monitor flood operations, where experts, including Professor Jan Nowak, are joined by the Mayor (our second character) and acting provincial governor Marczak (our third central figure), as they balance the benefits and drawbacks of the approaching tragedy.
An action packed drama
The first three episodes mostly focus on fleshing out the area’s past and history, with an additional subplot featuring a girl named Klara and her possible paternity. I won’t give anything away, but it does receive a nice degree of closure in the last episode, despite some very clumsy planning to make it happen. Those looking for an action-packed film with strong drama and nail-biting scenes are likely to be disappointed. This is a far more gradual and politically charged series, and even when the flood arrives, there are few dramatic set pieces. To be honest, some excellent tension has been built up before to this, with several sequences with animals in episode 3 foreshadowing what’s to come.
A spicy blend of fiction
The combination of truth and fiction works in this production’s favour, with real-life individuals transformed into fictitious ones, replete with solid backstories and compelling subplots. As previously stated, this is a lot more character-driven ensemble, albeit it luckily does not veer into soapy drama territory.
High Water is not without problems, and in many respects, it did not require six episodes to convey its narrative. Four episodes would have been more than enough and may have helped to thicken up some of the drama, which is perhaps stretched out a little too thinly. Overall, High Water is a solid Polish drama, and if you enjoy catastrophe dramas, this should be just up your alley. It’s not going to blow up the tiny screen any time soon, but it’s not awful for an evening or two.