“High Water” and the Great Polish Trauma – Series Review

High Water


Title: “High Water” (TV Series)

Release Date: 2022

Director: Jan Holoubek, Bartłomiej Ignaciuk

Cast: Agnieszka Żulewska, Tomasz Schuchardt, Ireneusz Czop, Jerzy Trela, Anna Dymna, Mirosław Kropielnicki



“High Water” is undoubtedly one of the best Polish series of recent years. The very subject matter of the Netflix production arouses great emotion, as it touches on one of the serious traumas of our collective memory of recent decades, the great flood of 1997. It must be said that the brilliantly made series reflects the horror of those days, building tension along the lines of a seasoned thriller. At the same time, the creators used an interesting narrative perspective, as they showed the events, so to speak, from the outside – through the medium of a female observer somewhat alienated from the presented world. The presence of this his-foreigner-woman-scientist causes the viewer to indulge in a certain amount of critical distance from the presented story and, of course, the Polish reality of the time.

“High Water” and the success of Polish filmmakers

It is a real pleasure to be able to watch on the Netflix platform a Polish series of such a high level as “High Water.” Lapidary portrayal of the 1997 flood, apt choice of conventions, sensational acting and an interesting personal story in the background are just some of the assets of this production. Jan Holoubek and Bartlomiej Ignaciuk rose to the challenge and created a piece of good cinema that engages the viewer from the first episode to the last. The filmmakers fully deserved the Polish Film Academy’s Eagle Award, and Bartlomiej Kaczmarek’s award-winning cinematography is impressive. The meticulously prepared set design, modeled on archival shots of flooded Wroclaw, testifies to the attention to the smallest details and enhances the value of the series. The atmosphere of the 1990s and the culture of the riverside community also play an important role. Thus, this is another Polish series, which, like other productions in the style of “Wataha,” “Craven” or “Klangor,” captures the specific local color.

So we go back to the summer of 1997. Here is a flood wave approaching the city, and a crisis staff composed of local authorities and scientific consultants is trying to prepare a rational plan of action. Jakub Marczak (Tomasz Schuchardt), a local politician on behalf of the provincial governor, comes up with the idea of consulting an experienced hydrologist, Jasmina Tremmer (Agnieszka Żulewska), who is transported by helicopter for the task from the Zulawy Wislane, where she is currently conducting her own research. It soon becomes apparent that political interests will clash with the real need to protect the city, and personal ambitions may not withstand the clash with objective knowledge.

“High Water” and its characters

I have the impression that the success of “High Water” is not only the well-prepared script, set design and cinematography, but also the strength of the Polish actors. For me, Agnieszka Żulewska, who plays the role of Jasmine, is a sensational female performance, which comes off as interesting and believable. I completely do not understand the accusations appearing here and there, that here we have a strong female protagonist on the screen acting as a substitute for the male lead character. Yes, gender is important here – because it emphasizes and reinforces the basic, as it seems, idea of the filmmakers, which is to show the whole story from the perspective of someone from outside the presented world. Jasmine, raised in Breslau, is both herself and a stranger – she is someone who knows the reality well, while looking at it from a distance. In this case, the heroine’s femininity somehow duplicates the effect of otherness – an Other in a world ruled by men.

High Water Netflix series review

Moreover, Jasmine’s difficult personal history does not make her a crystalline character. Of course, the fate of the hydrologist negates all stereotypes about femininity, but also reevaluates them. For on the moral scale, paradoxically, it is the male protagonist – Jakub Marczak – who collects all possible points. Who can be more worthy of praise than a hard-working father raising his daughter alone, on top of taking care of his sick mother-in-law? Also noteworthy are the supporting characters – especially the brave role of Anna Dymna, Ireneusz Czop as the leader of the defenders of the bulwark, Jerzy Trela in his latest film incarnation or Miroslaw Kropielnicki playing Colonel Czacki.

High Water Netflix 2022

“High Water” – a story about the flood and about Poland

“High Water” is not only a series about a clash with a powerful element, which holds an important place in our collective memory, but also an attempt to draw a broader picture of the Polish mentality. In a sense, the production invites reflection on the enormity of the changes that have taken place in society over the past twenty years. In fact, throughout the screening, I couldn’t help feeling that we are dealing here with some kind of perverse trick, involving the transfer of the contemporary heroine into the reality of two decades ago. Jasmine seems to be a woman from the current generation of thirty-year-olds, so to speak, thrown into the 1990s. This contrast between the way we think about ourselves now and the way things used to be, is downright poignant. The heroine’s natural conviction that she is a full-fledged European was not at all common for us a few decades ago – when we were full of complexes and fears, wondering whether to enter the European Union and what this integration would bring us.

The only thing I missed in the series was a certain insufficiency in showing the great social upsurge we experienced at the time. And it was the extraordinary sacrifice and generosity of ordinary people who became real heroes, helping others in need. After all, for anyone who remembers that time, the great water is also associated with a great repulse of hearts, and this should also be told.