The travails of the neuron-transfer scientist get swirled into a surreal kaleidoscope of Eros and sci-fi in Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte’s sophomore feature, Vanishing Waves. Like Robin Cook by way of Tarkovsky, there is an astute visual artistry on display here, even if it’s bound to remind you of countless other similarly themed tales of disconnected future love. While some of the performances are stilted and the central romance isn’t quite engaging, there’s a hypnotic power to the memorable imagery, a tequila sunrise dreamscape tapping into unexplored chasms of sensuality.
Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is a neuron-transfer research scientist that’s been selected to participate in an experiment that will bring him into psychic contact with a coma patient. While he’s given no details about the patient, he is submerged in a sensory deprivation tank and immediately makes contact with Aurora (Jurga Jutaite), a beautiful young woman that nearly died in a drowning accident. We’ve observed Lukas at home, in a stagnant relationship with his wife where there seems to be little romance and no intimacy, so it makes perfect sense that he would have a titillating sexual attraction to the alluring Aurora.
While they give a new meaning to the term mind f*ck, what doesn’t make sense is Lukas’ neglect to tell his colleagues that he’s actually made a connection with Aurora, giving scant details that make the researchers think a slow progress is being made while he goes back for repetitive bouts of sexual healing. Meanwhile, in his waking life, Lukas becomes obsessed with tracking down Aurora’s physical body as he becomes convinced that he will be able to save her from imminent death. Confiding his experiences with friend Darius (Darius Meskauskas), his own health begins to be affected by his prolonged states of psychic contact while Aurora’s situation, whose physical body seems to respond positively, reveals a more dire actuality to Lukas.
While Vanishing Waves recalls everything from Altered States (1980) to the fantastical surrealism of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Belle Captive (1983), it curiously shares a similar resonance to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest release, Real (set to premiere at 2013’s Locarno Film Festival) in which a woman’s suicide attempt places her in a coma, while her partner attempts to reach her via advances in neuroscience that allows him to visit her subconscious. While Kurosawa is more philosophical sci-fi, the lack of character development and narrative fluidity place Buozyte’s film as more dependent on emotional resonance. A physician’s attempts to monitor the effects on the experiments on Lukas’ mental health results in a conversation concerning objectivity, which is laughed at as “nothing more than the fetish of truth.” Human emotion nullifies any theoretical possibility of objectivity, Buozyte’s screenplay (co-written with Bruno Samper) seems to say, and for all we know, Lukas’ intense interactions with Aurora may be only a product of his own imagination.
The hypnotic power of Vanishing Waves is due foremost to its superb soundtrack from Swedish composer/singer/songwriter Peter Von Poehl, whose metallic discord and eerie echoes can be paradoxically relaxing and unnerving. Buozyte utilizes returning cinematographer Feliksas Abrukauskas for her sumptuous visuals, which have the tendency to be as cliché (Lukas’ continual surfacing through an ocean of water to get to Aurora, or an empty, decadent theater) as they are innovative (a deliriously beautiful rose-tinged sunset, or an extreme close-up on a multi-eyed insect, feasting and laying eggs). Certainly erotic, what with the sexual escapades of these fantastical couplings, an orgy scene looks like the R-rated version of Kylie Minogue’s “All the Lovers” music video. While lead actor Marius Jampolskis is achingly dull (he also starred in Buozyte’s 2008 debut, The Collectress), and one can’t help but think switched gender roles of the comatose victim may have been more interesting, Buozyte’s Vanishing Waves is an innovative, visually arresting feature.
Despite deciding not to release this visually expressive title on Blu-ray, Artsploitation has definitely package this impressively as a two disc set, with the second disc featuring several extra features of interest. A Making Of Vanishing Waves featurette gives us a basic behind the scenes look at the film, with director Buozyte commenting on the difficulty of getting her film attention in her native country. Similar ground is covered in a succinct review from Sergio Rios Perez at Cineuropa. More exciting is the complete original soundtrack from Peter Van Poehl, but nothing beats the fact that Artsploitation has included Buozyte’s 2008 debut, The Collectress, which would most likely remain unavailable if not for its inclusion here. Rough around the edges, but also very visually expressive (but again, a bit slim on narrative conviction and characterization), The Collectress features two actors Buozyte uses again in Vanishing Waves.
Winner of Best Picture at 2012’s Fantastic Fest, Vanishing Waves is the first Lithuanian film to receive theatrical distribution in North America. Perhaps destined to be a curio title, it marks the breakout of a talented new cinematic voice with director Kristina Buozyte. While its two leads don’t manage to muster much chemistry (or screen presence), which would’ve considerably helped us to overlook a simple and sometimes derivative storyline, afterwards its images will surface, remembered unexpectedly, like recalling a troubled dream where you can’t remember what went on but only how it made you feel.