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The documentary team that made 2007’s “Manufactured Landscapes” created this visually stunning follow-up film, which emphasizes the beauty and strangeness of decay in the 21st century.

Like the previous film, “Watermark” begins with a lengthy, almost abstract sequence that records repetitive movements, which seem to ache to tell a story. But the longer you look, the less you see in conventional narrative terms.

Whether it’s a vision of manufactured hell (the endless Chinese factory that opens “Manufactured Landscapes”) or a freakish force of nature (muddy surf appears to rise above a border town in the opening of “Watermark”), the movements are spinning out of control.

Local observers (and other native speakers) are used to comment on the images of massive devastation.

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Cinematographer Nicholas de Pencier’s swooping cameras, which appear to obey no laws of gravity, go on to record the construction of a skyscraper-high Chinese dam, the cracked-mud desert where the Colorado used to flow, the toxic clutter of a desert town, the water-plundering tanneries of Bangladesh.

And when it comes to California and its water resources (or lack thereof), there’s more than a faint echo of “Chinatown” and its deeply pessimistic “Forget it, Jake” finale. Forget it? Not these filmmakers.

They’ve found a way of serving up these images without seeming callous or exploitative or preachy. Climate change is never just a theory to them. It’s as clear as a water shortage or a dried-up lake that used to supply a village with abundant fish.

John Hartl:

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