Review: Wood and Water

Written and directed by Jonas Bak, as she enters retirement, a mother leaves behind her solitary life in rural Germany and memories of a once perfect family life and travels to protest-ridden Hong Kong, a place that has kept her son away from her for many years. Starring: Anke Bak, Theresa Bak, Lena Ackerman, Alexandra Batten, Patrick Lo and Ricky Yeung.

There’s something so beautiful about a film which can be confidently content in its quiet, and this is one of those films. It’s purely exceptional how well this film can capture your attention, it’s almost hypnotic, transfixing you on this kind, intelligent and independent woman. The story is simple in plot but dense in its layers of emotion, implications and cultural observations. It may not work for those who can’t return the patience it offers, but for those who can, it’s a moving experience. It flows at its own speed and takes the time to adequately appreciate its remarkable surroundings. The tone the story strikes is excellently grounded, bringing each leg of Anke’s journey with a dose of touching realism.

Jonas Bak creates a thoughtful, meditative atmosphere right from the start which only grows as time goes on. It moves in a nostalgic fashion, embracing you with a comforting yet complex presence. His directorial style feels almost documentary like, but with heavy influence from Asian cinema, filmmakers such as Yasujirō Ozu, Hong Sang-soo or Hirokazu Koreeda. Bak uses a satisfyingly varied range of shots, even occasionally using intensely slow moving, extended views which nicely reflect the pensive atmosphere.

A large influence on the draw of Wood and Water is the presence of Anke Bak, she’s kind, generous, warm, wise and wistful. Bak is simply effortless to watch, she feels so utterly genuine and sincere that she can hold your attention no matter what she’s doing, or even if it’s nothing at all. She crosses paths with some interesting people along the way but in particular, Ricky Yeung’s activist and Patrick Lo’s doorman. There’s something about their interactions which create a simple but meaningful connection, a common understanding despite language and cultural barriers. It’s both entertaining and touching to watch.

Wood and Water is endlessly endearing and surprisingly compelling. It’s deceptively simple, leaving its complexity to be interpreted rather than handed to you which holds a strong, sincere charm. Anke Bak brings a comforting, wise and contented presence which you could watch for hours. Jonas Bak’s feature debut is a patient, thoughtful and wistful film with a touching story which flows smoothly against an impressive visual.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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