Review: WAVES, A Quietly Emotional Cross-Cultural Drama

Contributing Writer; Tokyo, Japan (@patrykczekaj)
Review: WAVES, A Quietly Emotional Cross-Cultural Drama
In Don Gerardo Frasco's Waves, a seemingly idyllic island paradise in the Philippines unexpectedly turns into a battleground of mixed emotions for two friends-turned-secret-lovers desperately trying to revive a brief yet intense love affair that, at first sight, clearly falls into the 'doomed from the start' category. With almost every line of dialogue comes a new and meaningful revelation, systematically magnifying all the challenges that the characters had and have to face on a daily basis.

Apart from a few sequences that introduce and finish the story, the whole picture takes places in a luxurious-looking private island resort best saved for a truly special romantic getaway. The magnificent waterlogged panorama encompassed by a myriad of trees and rock cliffs pleasingly hints at a fairly tale culmination, but everyone who's expecting just that might be bitterly disappointed.

Some of the quieter and more dream-like scenes, especially the ones filmed underwater, are somewhat reminiscent of Kawase Naomi's 2014 Cannes-selected film Still the Water, a beautiful and poetic but ultimately underwhelming drama. The similarities don't end here, though. It's the stark contrast between what's in the foreground (couples struck with ongoing relationship problems) and in the background (remote places of tranquility and almost surreal natural beauty) that oftentimes makes the connection perfectly visible.

While the characters' background details are kept at minimum, the emotions the story touches are accessible and vivid: here's a story about a Filipino man (Baron Geisler) and an American woman (of Polish descent, nevertheless, and played by real-life model Ilona Struzik), who fall for each other in New York City and decide to pursue their love amidst distance and cultural boundaries, years after their first meeting.

Before venturing into feature films, Frasco worked as a cinematographer on numerous narrative shorts. Although I can't really comment on his previous works (I haven't had a chance to see any of his short films yet), it seems that over the course of years he's developed a style that clearly signals his willingness to work outside the more conventional parameters. It might not be totally unique (nods to Terrance Malick are evident), but it's definitely sumptuous and very straightforward. Frasco is certainly adept at filming and framing the casual events of our lives (one could notice that outdoor scenes are his forte), exquisitely outlining how even the smallest weather shifts or lighting changes may correspond to the characters' sudden mood swings.

Geisler, a rather notable figure among fans of Filipino cinema, plays Ross, a devoted and caring yet obviously unstable man who used to have a good job and traveled around the world, but is now drowning his sorrows in good whiskey. 'Nothing's sadder than a man drinking alone', utters Sofia repeatedly. For Ross their short romantic escapade quickly becomes an opportunity to drink some more. With an unlikely role (Geisler's apparently used to playing villains) he does fairly well, but in all honesty, the material on hand doesn't really push him beyond his comfort zone.

Sofia, on the other hand, gives the impression of being a very undecided person, what with her constant mood swings and strange behavior, like throwing a wedding ring into the sea. Sometimes it's hard to say if Struzik is playing herself or not, but being a model definitely helps and makes her performance all the more believable. Given Struzik's elegance, beauty --without make-up she fits incredibly well into the natural landscape -- and ability to make even the most clich├ęd sentences sound convincing, it's not hard to see why Ross has fallen in love with her back in NYC. Modeling in various countries, not to mention a husband back home, might be a challenging obstacle to her happiness right now. 

But what does it really mean to be happy? Sofia isn't sure herself. Neither is Ross. Eventually, though, the protagonists break the silence, although the gorgeous piano score brings a lot of comfort to those otherwise sorrowfully quiet scenes, and begin to articulate their feelings in a concise manner, only confirming they're trapped in a love affair that's ultimately bound to fail.

A sensitive, affecting, and minimalist cross-cultural romantic drama, Waves touches the heart thanks a finely crafted script and the subtle qualities of its tone and mood. Without overplaying his hand or taking cheap emotional shots, Frasco examines the ups and downs of a fleeting intimate relationship, and does it in a truly satisfying way. Romance fans will surely be delighted.
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Don Gerardo FrascoPhillippinesWaverly PicturesWaves

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