Film Reviews

Vanishing Waves Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper

Rating - 8/10

A partnership production between Lithuania, France, and Belgium, Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper's surreal sci-fi thriller Vanishing Waves is an exploration of sexual desire facilitated through technology and the interaction of memories.  From the puzzling, painterly, and vivid visual design, its provocative study of a character's metamorphosing mental state, the film is a modern-day Solaris (1972).  In an interview with distribution company Artsploitation, Buožytė reveals the story's dualities- in the mind and reality, metaphysical and material (in addition to the title's reference to both neurological oscillations and surface waves in water).  Principal character and neuroscientist Lukas (Marius Jampolskis), the subject of sensory deprivation experiment, comes to inhabit the mind and the pains and pleasures of a young comatose patient named Aurora (Jurga Jutaite) after a horrific car accident.  What begins as a clinical focus on a team of scientists' studies of brain activity becomes a highly erotic and visual affair, as Lukas and Aurora nourish each other's inexplicable, idealistic needs that ultimately create a great rift in Lukas' waking life.  While the film shares Tarkovsky and Antonioni's inner moods of alienation (particularly in relation to the latter's use of architecture), Vanishing Waves also bonds with this year's Upstream Color by Shane Carruth; while Buožytė and Samper's project is more dystopian in nature, the films' inexorable, surrealistic entanglement of the cerebral and sensual are invigorating in a genre replete with stale imagery and stock characters.  Upstream Color is a slightly more ambiguous and cognitive exercise, but the directors of this film craft an incredibly sensory, seductive, and emotionally genuine experience despite its underdevelopment of Lukas' girlfriend, Lina (Martina Jablonskyte).

While waves of recent futuristic fiction possess an aesthetic that seems a little too indebted to the past with a visual allure that offsets the intended message of the modern condition, Vanishing Waves is more resolutely bonded to the nature of twenty-first century communication.  Filtered through the digital spectrum of video chat, text messages, and social media, relationships have grown increasingly abstract.  Lukas serves as a mirror of one forced to transition from more intimate, palpable communication of reality to the infinite inquires of the digitized.  His job as a researcher and programmer puts him at a remove from his environment and its inhabitants; when implanted into the unbound digital realm, his comfort is often expressed in his literal nakedness, exploring sexual urges that would go unfulfilled in the real world.  The film highlights this through a sharp color palette; the white sterility of the laboratory is a stark contrast to the intensified and warmer reds, oranges, and browns of Aurora's mind-landscapes that position him in elaborate, beautiful structures and glowing beach scenes.  The lure of color is psychologically gripping not only for Lukas but for viewers, as Buožytė comments on the two-way effect of visual culture on perception and emotions.  This schism in Lukas' experiences initiates an all-consuming guilt; as the scientists and colleagues question his responses to the experiment, Lukas recedes further into the stimulating cavities of his virtual pleasures, withholding accurate accounts of his interactions with Aurora.  Instead, he merely volunteers vagaries that will permit him additional chances to seek secret copulation with the alluring, mysterious enchantress.

For a film concerned with explicit patterns and desires of the unconscious mind, Vanishing Waves is a remarkably modest production that favors analog designs, progressively employing less digital effects, according to co-director Samper.  For one, this decision deconstructs the boundaries between the perceptions of real and surreal; as Lukas bonds more closely with Aurora, he is unable to separate his experiences in his mind with those of his body.  As cause and effect, the film successfully explores one's inability to reconcile a complete separation between virtual and physical experience perhaps akin to Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010).  If a purely mental experience involves intimate sensory acts, then they are indistinguishable from the reality of exposure.  In this film's case, Lukas and Aurora share sexual curiosities (touch), witness enhanced environmental phenomena (sight), and orgiastically gorge on a smorgasbord of seafood (taste).  Ultimately, Lukas hopes that by continuing to pursue contact with Aurora, as the neuroscientists have forbidden, he can revive her from a comatose state.  However, the camera's observant study of character prompts haunting questions concerning states of being.  Is resurrection what Aurora really wants?  Is one reality strong enough to contain human life?  In the gorgeous, spatially disoriented universe of Vanishing Waves, temptations take a presiding psychosexual hold over all rational conceptions.  It's this gender dynamic that defines the film more wholly than any science, specifically in demonstrating how a relationship may bud without the use of language, elevating along with it, a distinct cinematic expression.  In place of speech, the score of Peter Von Poehl exhibits dynamic range from high-pitched ambient noise to chamber music and brooding post-rock.  As if the compelling construct of the film weren't enough, Vanishing Waves layers a thoroughly twenty-first century meta-reference with a scene that involves Lukas playing the acclaimed allegoric video game ICO (2001).  Partially inspired by surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico, ICO is essentially a non-verbal romantic adventure through a chimeric, cryptic castle.  Well-played.