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High Water review – Netflix mixes fact and fiction to tell a real-life disaster

October 6, 2022

This High Water review is spoiler-free.

Netflix’s Polish Original Series high water is about a lot of things, but it’s mostly about denial.

It turns out that people don’t want to admit that their homes are going to be flooded, or that their maps have been outdated for thirty years, or that their administrative errors could have, in total, cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars.

Like the recent Apple TV+ Five days at the memorialthis is a show about an actual natural disaster and the decisions that were made before, after and in the middle of it, but like the ones on HBO Chernobyl and that of Netflix – certainly fictitious, but barely – Don’t look upit’s really about a very smart person trying to convince people who don’t want to listen to them of something that should have been pretty obvious in the first place.

The obvious thing in this series is the impending flooding of Wroclaw, Poland, and surrounding areas, a veritable disaster dubbed the Millennium Flood that happened in the late 90s. It’s obvious because the he hydrologist that writers Kasper Bajon and Kinga Krzeminska invented, Ja?mina Tremer (Agnieszka ?ulewska), unequivocally proves it’s going to happen in half an episode, and everyone from provincial executive Jakub Marczak ( Tomasz Schuchardt) to compete with the experts of the citizens of Wroclaw, is adamant that everything is rubbish. On any show like this, the sensible woman who tells deer hunters to shoot themselves in the dick has a name particularly well suited to disaster management — calling her Tremer is like calling an expert mechanic Jack Wrench – is still right.

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high water is based on a true story, then, but what’s clever is that it uses this very real, very tragic event as its lens, but builds fictional character drama around it, using experts and administrators coined as stand-ins for relevant questions and viewpoints that arose before, during and after the flood. It’s an approach that allows the show to condemn all of this without risking potentially contentious responses. No one, perhaps ironically, comes out particularly clean.

But the show is more interesting for its artistic license. Tremer and Marczak have a story, for example, that wouldn’t have been shared by the real people involved, and that story provides some decent texture. The whole thing can be structured in a more dramatic way, without worrying too much about who, exactly, said or did what, and at what precise moment. The overall scan of events looks accurate, but the connective tissue is more conveniently binge-able, which is perhaps just as well.

There are probably all kinds of questions you could raise about this approach if you were so inclined; matters of taste, decency, accuracy and respect, some of which will matter to different people. But it’s hard to argue with the results. The worst thing high water could have been, after all, was dry.

You can stream High Water with a Netflix subscription.

Further reading

  • high water ending explained

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