Editor’s Note: Waves is now open in limited release and on VOD
A friend once asked whether that which wins Best Picture ought not also, by default, take Best Director, and—forgiving the technical ignorance—it’s not a difficult assumption to appreciate. That the idea of the respective Oscar statuettes being awarded to different films remains a relative novelty is indication enough that even at Hollywood’s heart, the strengths of a film and of its maker are thought of as all but inextricable. Thank goodness, then, for movies like Waves, a tedious film of tremendous directorial vision. It’s a necessary corrective to all-out auteurism to highlight instances like this, where the profundity and power of a filmmaker’s imagery does neither a profound nor powerful film make.
…the oft-staggering compositions with which he gives life to his seaside Filipino locale are those of an eye with an innate understanding of the aesthetic ontology of cinematic storytelling.
That Waves’ director Don Gerardo Frasco has segued to the role from an erstwhile career in cinematography will be no surprise to any who’ve seen the film: the oft-staggering compositions with which he gives life to his seaside Filipino locale are those of an eye with an innate understanding of the aesthetic ontology of cinematic storytelling. The story that takes place amidst it, alas, feels far less rooted in an intelligent interpretation of what works on-screen. The result is a curious film, replete with compelling visual and sonic compositions all but wasted on a disappointingly standard tale of love, lust, and loss.
Indeed it’s a movie predicated on a peculiar dualism, caught between ethereal emotional interludes—which, if his comparably captivating camerawork is any indication, fixates Frasco far more—and neater narrative passages. The former relies only on the director’s own eye—he acts as his own cinematographer—and its ability to work in synchronicity with the similarly amorphous inclinations of his editor and composer. They, respectively Adrian Morales Ramos and Barbara De Biasi, bring to the film an alluring quality of cosmic presence, clearly indebted to latter-day Malick in its elliptical editorial sensibility and swooping, near-spiritual camera choreography. Favouring sonic over visual continuity in his cuts, Ramos meets the elegant melancholy of De Biasi’s celli for moving montage that beautifully locates these characters as clearly emotionally as physically.
…it’s astonishing, after an opening passage rich in the aforesaid aesthetic, to see the film give way to comparable conventionality as its central duo are introduced less under the auspices of the sublime than the sublunary.
Would that the script shared this sensibility: it’s astonishing, after an opening passage rich in the aforesaid aesthetic, to see the film give way to comparable conventionality as its central duo are introduced less under the auspices of the sublime than the sublunary. And as the trite dialogue that’s characteristic of debut scribe Scott Curtis Graham buries the erstwhile intrigue beneath a mound of expository insignificance, the film’s fleeting sense of majesty collides irreparably with the mundane. That it’s mouthed by actors like Baron Geisler and Ilona Struzik does little to alleviate the issues: despite drastically differing experience levels, both performers seem visibly uncomfortable with their character’s mercurial motivations as these exes almost unwillingly reunite, just as uncertain of the rationale behind it all as their second-guessing surrogates—and eventually their audience too.
But as much as the film’s demerits may attest the difference between fine direction and a fine film, Frasco too falls victim to the pull of his movie’s weaker aspects, his strengths stymied by the demands of these lesser sequences. He’s given to jump cuts and an over-abundance of dialogue dubbed over silent scenes, a coy ploy to enliven the dramatically staid with the stylistically vibrant. Rather than relieving the burden, however, it serves only to compound it, belying a deep-seated distrust of the material at hand. In its most impressive moments, Waves is the showcase of a terrific new talent. In its most wearied, it reveals him as one aware he’s yet to uncover the most appropriate outlet for it.
Waves is a tedious film of tremendous directorial vision.