Wood and Water Film Review: A Meditation on Age and Motherhood

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ood and Water is the feature debut of German writer and director Jonas Bak, with a slow but moving soundtrack by Brian Eno. It tells the story of Anke (Anke Bak), a recently retired woman living in rural Germany who calls all her children home to come and celebrate the start of this new chapter in her life. At the last minute, her son Max, who lives in Hong Kong and hasn’t been there for three years, cancels, saying he’s stuck there due to pro-democracy protests.

Eventually, bored with all her new free time, Anke decides to go to Hong Kong amid the protests in an attempt to visit her son. Wood and Water follows her journey, as she abandons the familiar world of her domestic life in Germany’s Black Forest region for the new perspectives she finds in Hong Kong.

You might expect a film set during a series of heated political protests to be high-intensity. Wood and water have nothing to do with it. It can best be described as smooth, both in pacing and in plot.

While in Hong Kong, Anke encounters an array of characters, ranging from two young Australian travelers on their last night in the city to an elderly Chinese fortune teller, forging a particularly close bond with the safety of the security guard. Max’s building, where she resides during her stay despite her unexpected absence (we never meet him).

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Most of the time, this leisurely pace is a real strength, but there are times during the film’s 85 minutes where, alongside the lack of plot, minimal storyline and very understated acting, it can begin to feel dull and stagnant. Although this is already a short film, there are times when the camera lingers on a static shot for a second or two too long.

Still, the film is beautiful and deals well with ideas about aging and intercultural relations, albeit less thoroughly or effectively with themes like motherhood and politics, which feels like a missed opportunity. At times, Bak’s execution is lacking – some moments feel insignificant, and despite many great scenes, sometimes the film moves so slowly that it starts to feel monotonous. Ultimately it is a character observation and as such a moving portrait of a woman discovering herself late in life.

Wood and Water was at the BFI London Film Festival 2021. woodandwater.de

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