Stanley Kubrick meets Gaspar Noe in Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte's third feature, co-written with Bruno Samper, a visually stunning, sexy sci-fi romantic thriller that's winning awards and taking festivals by storm. Here, at Fantastic Fest, "Vanishing Waves" took four of the five jury trophies in the Fantastic Features category: Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actress (Jurga Jutaite).
Don't arrive late because a brief opening narration sets up the story's premise. In a line, scientists discover a way to wire the "inactive" brain of a comatose patient (Aurora, portrayed by Jurga Jutaite) with that of a healthy subject (Marius Jampolskis as Lukas) as a way of peering into the secret workings of the coma victim's mind. Of course, things don't necessarily go as planned. Fans of 9 Songs and Anatomy of Hell will appreciate the continual forays into what some might call a soft porn ballet as the neurological experiments progress.
More than anything, the movie is a sci-fi conundrum interspersed with an erotically-charged, luscious program of modern dance. Jutaite and Jampolskis are absolutely wedded to these performances. Emotions are delicately underplayed, with the focus on the on screen pas-de-deux. There's very little dialogue as the script favors feelings and thoughts over actions and reactions.
The lush look of the film is its overarching achievement. It opens with a ONEr -- a single long take that immediately establishes this as a cinematographic showcase. Director of Photography Feliksas Abrukauskas helps craft a motion picture that would be gorgeous to watch even without any plot at all. "Vanishing Waves" has, unquestionably, some of the most beautiful cinematography of any film I've seen all year.
The regular but judicious use of single takes and long tracking shots enhance the fluidity of the action and keep the characters constantly in motion within the frame. There are no shaky hand-held images here -- this is a study in the effective use of Steadicam in telling a story beyond the limits of the scripted page. Editor Suzanne Fenn trusts the viewer's eye will know when to take a rest from this delicious assault on the senses and keeps cuts to a minimum.
Aurora and Lukas are bathed in light, viewed in oversaturated images almost devoid of color. The film is filled with the blacks and grays and whites so ubiquitous in the science fiction genre. The monochromatic clinic set is black and white. Shots in Lukas' house utilize a cold color palette dominated by pastel blues. The only primary colors on display owe their appearance to the occasional food-centric dream sequence.
Peter Von Poehl's sweeping original score rests on a continuous humming that echoes the electronic drone of the medical equipment as well as the imagined workings of the human brain. It's magnificently integrated into the narrative.
"Vanishing Waves" is simply gorgeous to behold. The premise is elegant but the execution of the dream sequences will sweep you off your brain. This is a singular cinematic experience to savor like an all-night gourmet meal or foray into sexual experimentation. Or both at once.
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