Polish drama series “High Water,” or “Wielka Woda” in native Polish, is a fictional retelling of the fateful time in 1997 when a part of Poland and other central European countries were massively flooded. While the premise and background of the floods and the administration’s reaction to them are mostly factual, the series creates a tale with a set of fictional characters to highlight the crisis even more. “High Water” is a good enough watch for those interested in stories of human triumph over natural disasters.
‘High Water’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
Around May of 1997, the Polish government administrators in Wroclaw were busy preparing for an official visit by the Pope, and out of all the excitement, they ignored a critical warning about a flood wave about to hit the city. Six weeks later, though, water levels around the area begin to rise, and the authorities finally decide that they have to take measures. One of the politicians, Jakub Marczak, hopes to compete in the upcoming elections, and he takes on an important role in the team that is formed to handle the situation. Jakub reaches out to the hydrologist who had first sent the warning six weeks back, Jasmina Tremer, and brings her to Wroclaw to advise them. Jasmina, who had originally been from Wroclaw, was going around Poland studying nature at the time after having moved away from the city due to certain events in her past. Although Jasmina joins the administration team, the government’s appointed specialists dismiss her opinion at first, saying that although a flood was indeed headed towards Wroclaw, its effect would be negligible.
From the very beginning, Jasmina refuses to be dominated by the specialists, and she prefers to walk out of the team than listen to wrong predictions. She also goes around the suburbs of the city to monitor the situation and meets with a man named Andrzej Rebacz during her time in the nearby village of Kety. After assessing the situation, Jasmina decides that the only way to stop the flood would be to destroy the flood banks in some areas to divert the growing water, and she informs Jakub of the same. Despite the official experts’ belief otherwise, the administrative team, mostly led by Jakub, decides to listen to Jasmina and blow up the flood banks with explosives. However, Jasmina and the rest soon find out that her assessment had been based on maps made thirty years ago, and therefore the natural course of rivers and human settlements had changed since then. Instead of diverting the flood, this decision massively disrupts life in the region and does not control the impending flood in Wroclaw at all. With time running out fast, Jasmina and Jakub now need to think of ways to contain the situation while also working through their own troubled relationship from the past.
What Happens To The Characters When The Floods Finally Hit Wroclaw?
After the disastrous first decision, the task force and Jasmina correct their calculations, and the hydrologist now states that the only way to save Wroclaw from the flood wave would be to destroy the embankment at Kety and intentionally flood the village instead. However, very shortly after this decision is made, Jakub’s personal assistant leaks information about it to a news TV channel, and the decision to flood Kety is telecast quickly. The loss of livelihood faced by many in the first region that had been flooded understandably made the villagers of Kety grow wary of the government, and they now decided to not let the intentional flooding of their village take place. Although the government was promising to give them rehabilitation and funds to make up for their loss, nobody was willing to give up their own place, the lands, and the houses of their forefathers, just to save the city from drowning. The villagers admitted and acknowledged the rising water levels but decided to stop the flood on their own and started to strengthen the embankments by working together through day and night. The government authorities do try to enter the region and carry out their actions on two occasions, but the villagers triumph over them both times.
Finally, the police helicopters carrying the explosives have to retreat as the villagers take positions dangerously close to the embankments, and the plan of flooding Kety has to be canceled. With no diversion for the water to take, the city of Wroclaw now gradually starts to get flooded, and waters rise dangerously in the outskirts and neighboring areas. Even if there was a sense of suddenness and swiftness to the flood in reality, “High Water” does not really emulate that feeling, as we see the waters gradually rise and cover the streets and pavements of the city. By the time the flood has fully arrived, most streets of the city are filled with high levels of water, and some lower areas are almost totally submerged. Flooding at the city’s zoo had also made wild animals escape the place, especially a crocodile, which escaped into the waters of the city. Many people were trapped in their houses, with the entrances and lower floors totally submerged under water, and in higher regions, short man-made barriers had to be made to keep more water from entering the buildings. The main hospital in the city was also tremendously affected, as its lower floors were totally flooded, and the electricity facility was also lost. While a smaller hospital had to take charge of the patients, a meat slaughterhouse had been taken over by the authorities and transformed into a mortuary.
“High Water” notably takes more interest in the characters that it creates and their lives than the exact nature of the flood going on. The hydrologist Jasmina and the politician Jakub were actually very well-known to each other much before this natural disaster. The two had grown up in the same neighborhood in Wroclaw and had also been part of the same anarchist anti-government group during their teenage years. From there on, they even became serious lovers and had a child together. However, the two had a fallout as they gradually grew up, and their understanding of life changed. While Jakub became a politician and wanted to be part of the government, the authoritarian figure that he once protested against, Jasmina still remained like her previous self and was also addicted to drugs. In a short while, Jasmina left the family and the city, strongly believing that she would never be a good mother, and Jakub looked after their daughter, Klara, by himself. But Klara was never told about the real identity of her mother and had only been told that she had left them after her birth. Even when Jasmina returns to Wroclaw and meets with Klara, the young girl does not know that she is meeting her mother but does suspect so after some time. To both Jakub and Jasmina, keeping Klara safe becomes an important matter during the floods, and the father leaves her with an acquaintance, but Klara escapes from the place and goes missing for a while as the tremendous floods hit. On the other hand, Jasmina also decides to help her mother out, even though they have been distant since her childhood days. Jasmina’s mother, Lena, had been a very popular and talented opera singer in her youth but had possibly developed an eating disorder out of depression after she lost the limelight. At present, Lena is unable to even move out of her apartment, and Jasmina helps her out by drugging her unconscious and moving her to an apartment on the higher floors of the building.
Andrzej Rebacz, the villager Jasmina had met in Kety, also has people to look after, as he used to live in their ancestral home in Kety with his father. However, the father had fallen sick and had to be admitted to the main hospital in Wroclaw sometime before the floods. Even though he knew that stopping his village from being flooded would mean that his father would be in danger in the city, Andrzej decided to side with the villagers and help them protect their lands. The main reason for this was that his father himself wanted him to protect their ancestral house with all the effort possible, and Andrzej ultimately delivered on this promise. The villagers in Kety do manage to protect themselves from the high water, but Andrzej receives a call from the hospital about his father. By the time he and his son reach Wroclaw and the hospital, most parts of it are heavily flooded, and Andrzej ultimately finds out that his father has died. He takes the man’s body back to Kety, where they conduct a traditional funeral in honor of the man. On the other hand, Jakub Marczak frantically looks for his daughter on the flooded streets and even goes to the mortuary to check on a body but finds out that his daughter is indeed alive. Klara takes shelter in one of the buildings, where she miraculously meets with Jasmina, and the two make their way toward Jakub’s office. The father is obviously relieved to see his daughter, and by now, Klara has also understood that the two are her parents. Together, the three return to Jakub’s house to spend a few days together while on the streets; the water stands still for a couple of days and then gradually starts to drain out.
‘High Water’ Ending Explained: Is It Based On A True Story? Did Jakub And Jasmina Reunite?
There was not much that the authorities or experts could have done after the flood had hit the city, and therefore everyone just had to wait for the water to drain out. The government, with help from the French army, distributed food and amenities to the people to help them survive during these times. Finally, the water did drain out, leaving the streets muddy and dirty but safe to walk through. Inside Jakub’s house, Klara confronts her parents for having lied to her and left her, and Jasmina explains to her that she could never be a good mother. Instead, she offers to be good friends with Klara, asking her to visit her house sometimes, and the daughter agrees. Ten months after the floods, Jakub, Jasmina, and Andrzej are seen together again, but this time by the provincial government officials as they have been summoned to give their statements about their actions during the floods. Jasmina reveals that she is pregnant with her new boyfriend, and Jakub happily wishes her the best before he is called in for his interrogation.
“High Water” ends with real statistics from the 1997 Poland floods, as 56 people had lost their lives while almost 40,000 had lost their livelihoods and everything that they had. With an estimated loss of 12 billion PLN, this was the biggest disaster Poland had faced after the World Wars. From a tremendous disaster, though, the 1997 floods became a cultural thing for the citizens of Wroclaw as they all had come together to survive the ordeal. The experience that they had at the time became a cultural and social identity for the people of the city, and a single charity album released shortly after captured this brilliantly. This song, titled “Moja I Twoja Nadzieja,” became the unofficial anthem of the flood, and “High Water” also ends with the song as a fitting tribute to all those who died, lost themselves, and survived the terrible flood.
“High Water” is a 2022 Drama Thriller series created by Anna Kepinska.