In Don Gerardo Frasco’s Waves, the notion of a peaceful island spirals into a cacophony of frustration and despair, when two old friends try to rekindle their love for one another. With every scene and line of dialogue that unravels itself, new challenges are surfaced by our main characters to confront within the confines of their crumbling haven. The triumph of Frasco’s Waves is the director’s ability to enrapture the trouble that exists in paradise. Sure the Philippines look beautiful, but when propped up again the anguish of lies and mistrust, only appear as an awkward unreachable dream for our disillusioned secret lovers.
Our main characters are limited with setup, yet details illuminate as their background unfolds throughout the course of the film. Here is a story about a Filipino man (Baron Geisler) and an American model (Ilona Struzik), who find love in New York City and decide to pursue their love after years apart.
The film takes place on an indulgent private island, best suited for a romantic honeymoon. From crystal clear coves to white sandy beaches, the magnificent landscape acts more like a backdrop than a character in of itself. When compared to urban scenic films, like Manhattan or Swim Little Fish Swim, the chaos of New York City almost parallels and compliments the hysteria plaguing Isaac (Woody Allen) or Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa). Yet in Waves, the beauty of the island almost contradicts the ugliness of emotions Ross (Baron Geisler) and Sofia (Ilona Struzik) have to endure. The island hints at a fairly tale ending, only to be swept up by a tidal wave of separation.
Some of the wider panoramic shots, especially those that bring out the hidden beauties of the Philippines, are keenly reminiscent of Scott Cohen’s 2014 Seattle International Film Festival jury winner Red Knot, an underwhelming drama that is both stunning and elegant. Similarities continue, like the contrast of plot (couples tackling ongoing relationship problems) and setting (remote places of tranquility and surreal natural beauty) makes the connections seamless. Grand shots of whale sharks fade in and out of scene, with our protagonist swimming next to the beasts. In any other movie, this would be contrived as adventure and thrill. Yet with our brazed male lead confronting anguish and near depression, it becomes a test of courage and an outcry for life. We can easily replace the shark with a gun or a grenade, and tension couldn’t get anymore suspenseful. Nature becomes a game of Russian roulette, and the dream of life together in paradise becomes an agonizing nightmare.
Frasco’s work as a cinematographer is apparent with his homages to Terrance Malick, but more candid and direct. The director has a pristine knack for filming casual events in a character’s life, and through the slightest change of lightening or scenery, can have it reflect the character’s change in mood and feelings. Sound mixing is another strong suite of the director. Many times in Waves, dialogue delays a few seconds behind sound only to flash back or forth. This too adds to the disconnect the couple is living through.
Ross is an insecure man who drowns his sorrows in whiskey. On the brink of losing Sofia again, he quickly finds an excuse to start drinking again. Geisler plays the role with candid realism, but doesn’t have much material to push him out of his comfort zone. While Ross is firmly grounded in his depression, Sofia, on the other hand, comes across as aloof and indecisive. Struzik, being a model in real life, fits the role while relying on her beauty as part of her performance. Although Struzik isn’t a trained actress, her comfort in playing the role of Sofia comes across as natural and refreshing. One can see why Ross is so fixated with her, yet Sofia’s issues with her husband back in New York City are still unclear. The past is immortalized in the Philippines, yet the present is unattainable. Somber piano scores, akin to the chilling riffs from Jaws and Psycho, are the only indicator that their fatal love affair is destined to fail.
A subtle yet somber romantic drama, Waves is profound in small qualities, finely crafted by script and tone. Without being overbearing and loud, Frasco examines the turbulence of a failing relationship, and does so with grace and honesty.