High Water (Wielka woda), a suspense-filled true story from Poland

Agnieszka Zulewska in High Water

Let’s get the true parts of High Water (Wielka woda) out of the way first. In 1997, the River Oder flooded the Polish city Wroclaw causing great harm and death. The people knew the flood was coming, but incompetent local authorities didn’t take the needed action to save the city.

Instead of a documentary about the flood, High Water (Wielka woda) tells the human stories of people affected by the flood. Even though, as a viewer, you knew the flood was going to hit, the suspense remained high throughout the 6 episodes of the series because you cared about the leading characters and their drama around the flood.

The main character, Jasmina Tremer (Agnieszka Zulewska), is a hydrologist. She’s living in the field in a trailer doing research with her Dutch hydrologist boyfriend and two dogs. She’s also swigging methadone regularly. We learn she’s been “clean” for two years.

Agnieszka Zulewska’s performance absolutely makes this series work. Her character is smart, aggressive, tough, and not afraid to speak truth to power.

A helicopter lands next to Jasmina’s trailer and she is flown into Wroclaw to lend her expertise about the coming flood to the local authorities.

Tomasz Sapryk, Miroslaw Kropielnicki, Tomasz Schuchardt, and Agnieszka Zulewska in High Water
I’m pretending I don’t know Jakub, okay?

In the city, she spoke with politicians, military officers, and other hydrologists. They didn’t like what she had to say and often refused to take her advice. The man with his hand over his mouth to her right is Jakub Marczak (Tomasz Schuchardt).

Here’s where it gets interesting. Jasmina and Jakub have a child together. Klara Marczak (Blanka Kot) is 14 years old and doesn’t know Jasmina is her mother. She’s been raised by her father. Jakub is running for mayor.

Presumably Klara was raised by her father because of Jasmina’s addiction. Which also explains something about the morbidly obese former opera star Lena Tremer (Anna Dymna) Jakub cares for. Lena is Jasmina’s mother – again Jasmina hasn’t been in touch in years.

In addition to offering wisdom on how to save millions of people from the flood, Jasmina’s blood ties finally kick in and she becomes invested in saving Klara and her mother. Her mother lives in a ground floor apartment and isn’t capable of climbing stairs to a higher floor.

Jasmina advises releasing water from a dam in advance of the flood. That doesn’t happen. She advises blasting away some embankments that have been built along the river to change its course. One such embankment, by a dairy farm, is removed.

But the embankment holding back the river from the village of Kety (a fictional village) is a whole other drama. Andrzej Rebacz (Ireneusz Czop) is remodeling his father’s house in Kety. The house and all the village are in what used to be the path of the river. If the embankment were destroyed, the village would be lost. The villagers, led by Andrezej, refuse to let their homes be flooded and destroyed. Instead they reinforce the embankment.

The military, the police, the political officials – no one can convince the villagers of Kety to surrender their homes in order to save people in the city.

Blanka Kot and Agnieszka Zulewska in High Water
Jasmina and Klara find each other in the flood

There are many other characters in the story. Doctors, nurses, shop owners, television reporters, drug dealers, construction workers. Together they create a well-written dense and tense drama about how people struggle with catastrophe in different ways.

I thought the series was excellent. Engaging drama, stunning visuals that looked authentic, with suspense to the very end.

The one thing that bothered me was the language/subtitle issue, which I suppose is the fault of Netflix. (I know, I’m always complaining about subtitles.) The series is mostly in Polish, but there were some subtitles saying English or Dutch or German were being spoken. The words I heard didn’t sound like anything but Polish, which makes me wonder if I was hearing the actual words of the actors. It seemed like the original actors were delivering the lines, but it made me wonder. I get antsy if I don’t think I’m getting the total performance, including voice, from the original actor.

2 thoughts on “High Water (Wielka woda), a suspense-filled true story from Poland”

  1. So much is lost in a production when voices are dubbed. Why is Netflix so opposed to subtitles. Hearing the language of the series adds a whole other dimension.

    1. You can choose to hear the original language with subtitles in the settings. I much prefer hearing the voices of the original actors and always choose that. With this one, I don’t think they got it right.

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