Based on real historical events, HIGH WATER (Netflix) is a Polish series depicting the catastrophic flooding of a major city in Poland. Part disaster movie and part comedy of errors, the series incorporates venerable tropes into a story of bureaucratic bungling, hubris, and heroism that feels real and lived in.
In 1997, massive flooding impacted Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic due to a cyclone. In Poland, 40,000 people lost everything, and the city of Wroclaw, a city of some 600,000 people, was devastated by rising waters. Based on this historical event, HIGH WATER focuses on Jasmina Tremer, a hydrologist and recovering addict, and her efforts to save the city. When her report warning of flooding is read by government officials, they invite her to join a task force to deal with it. Unfortunately, everything the government tries to do either fails or backfires until the inevitable occurs.
We have a lot of familiar disaster tropes: a brilliant but hotheaded hero haunted by a dark past who warns of a public danger but is attacked for it or marginalized, veteran scientists who relentlessly attack the hero, government bungling, and an epic disaster engulfing a major city. Tremer is so hotheaded, in fact, that she often undermines her own cause by saying screw you guys and storming out of the room.
The show goes a lot farther than the familiar, however, by making it, well, even more familiar, but from real life. Lived in, I mean. Mundane. When the Army screws up because they’re using outdated maps, or the heroic farmers battle the cops to save their lands and let the city save itself some other way, or politicians point fingers at each other when the shit hits the fan, you think, yeah, that’s pretty much how it’d go. The same goes even more for the disaster response. The people need saving, but it’s not up to the hero, it’s up to everyone working together. I loved seeing the Poles trapped on the upper floors of buildings breaking out the vodka and making a party of it, while everyone else chips in as a community to help the worst off.
So overall, HIGH WATER is your basic disaster movie set in Poland and produced as a TV series, but it immediately stakes its own engaging identity by feeling real and featuring deep, likable characters. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.