It is very difficult to overestimate the importance of water. Russian filmmakers Anastasiya Popova and Julia Perkul have done it. In the monolithically titled Water—co-distributed by PDX-based Melissa Henderson and Betsy Chasse, of What the Bleep Do We Know!? fame—they attribute the ubiquitous element with properties far beyond standard wetness and goodness. Did you know, for instance, that water can allow two Russians wearing strange helmets to communicate telepathically across continents? That water once poisoned an entire roomful of hydrogen bomb researchers, just because their research annoyed water? That pure water actually burns?

"Of course, it burns very slowly," imparts a balding Russian scientist, leaning forward conspiratorially and raising an eyebrow. "If it happened quicker, then all the water would already be gone."

The film, a straight-faced documentary, takes as its subject hitherto unexplored properties of water, including flammability, consciousness and revenge. Gesturing to scatter plots on official-looking computers, the filmmakers explain well-documented phenomena like the transformation of water into wine. ("In my view, what Jesus did represents an informational influence on the water.") Did you know, for instance, that the frequency of vibration of prayers said in any language is 8 hertz, the exact same frequency as the vibrations of the earth's magnetic field? This is only the case, however, if the prayer is said with love.

Is it science? Is it religion? It's Christionomy, ecclesiastistry, religiology. As the film progresses, bona fide researchers—Nobel Prize winners and professors at respected universities, who really must be kicking themselves for doing those interviews—are slowly and slyly eclipsed by less reputable Russian scientists (who see no problem discussing, for instance, the chemical properties of holy water) and finally by pert-looking imams and bearded Eastern Orthodox priests. Quietly at first, the film highlights stories of Sufi mystics alongside studies of ice crystals, and gradually builds to its thrilling climax—a slow-motion re-enactment of Moses' parting the Red Sea.

The film itself is preceded by a three-minute slide show narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. It appears to have been made using an outdated version of Microsoft Outlook, and on the big screen it breaks up into pixels the size of a fist. While grainy stock photos painfully cross-dissolve and synthesizer music suspensefully churns, Leo gives a vocal performance somewhere between spoken-word poetry and Smokey the Bear. He advises, "By protecting water, we can protect ourselves." As he reads, keywords flash in bold caps across the screen: "PROTECTING," "WATER," and "PROTECT OURSELVES."

The movie's only redeeming points are magnified photographs of microscopic ice crystals, taken after water was subjected to different stimuli and then flash-frozen. In one instance, someone said "Thank you" to the water; this produced a tidy, hexagonal crystal, not unlike a snowflake. Other stimuli included words like "love," "hope" and "idiot" (a snotty block of a crystal), the phrases "I hate you" and "Mother Teresa" (sort of raisiny-looking), and music by an unidentified punk-rock band reminiscent of the Clash (cat's whiskers). Whether or not these images actually correspond to the stimuli—and they almost certainly don't—it's, at the very least, an intriguing concept.

Water might actually have hoodwinked viewers with its hokey science, had it not been so clumsily translated from Russian. Stateside distributors Intention Media actually re-recorded the voice-over, but something's still a little off. In crisp English, a booming movie-preview voice reads sentences like, "Everybody is sure that weather on the planet is created by cyclones and anti-cyclones," and, "It is well known that any animal will always choose water from a spring." Really, any animal? Always? Lest ye doubt, the filmmakers have provided incontrovertible proof: a dachshund in a very sciency-looking laboratory, who—yes, it's true, just look—prefers a beaker containing spring water. If nothing else, the film will make you thirsty.


opens Friday at the Bagdad Theater.