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Cinedelphia Film Festival Review: VANISHING WAVES (2013)

Welcome to Screen Invasion’s coverage of the first annual Cinedelphia Film Festival, a celebration of the City of Brotherly Love’s lesser known cinematic history (the motto: “we’re more than just Rocky”). A month long filmic carnival running from April 4 – 27, the Fest offers everything from a tour of The Stoogeum, a local museum dedicated solely to the Three Stooges, lost or little seen short & repertory films, and full blown local premieres, such as the Fantastic Fest favorite, Vanishing Waves. If you’re in the area, join in on the fun, and if you’re a SI reader, get ready for select coverage of Cinedelphia’s feature film selections. 

The fourth night at the mausoleum brings the Philadelphia premiere of the festival hit, Vanishing Waves…

With Solaris, Andrei Tarkovsky used the basic construct of a seventies “space” picture as a means to examine the fears, desires and innermost psychological workings of men. It’s a bold film; a movie that uses Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel as a mere outline (something the author was furious over) for Tarkovsky to explore what impacts space travel and exploration had on the human psyche and condition. Even though the famed Russian director would later reveal that he felt Solaris was an artistic failure (in 1983’s Voyage In Time, he admitted that he didn’t think the movie “transcended its genre”), the picture would go on to become his most widely recognizable work (something Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake certainly helped with). In Vanishing Waves, Lithuanian director Kristina Buozyte crafts her own attempt at genre transcendence, and in turn creates a film that may not be Tarkovsky’s equal, but seems indebted to the late master’s focus of sci-fi humanism.

For most American moviegoers, the obvious jumping off point when approaching Vanishing Waves is going to be Christopher Nolan’s 2010 dream-scape opus, Inception. But where Nolan created fictional technology that allowed a team of thieves to pull off heists inside of their targets’ minds, Buozyte’s legion of scientists have come up with a similar advancement that feels primitive when compared to those genre film constructs. Instead, the researchers here are not out for personal gain, but instead to probe the vast unknown that is the human subconscious. Enter Lukas (Marius Jampolskis), a neuron-informatics scientist who has volunteered to take part in an experiment that involves actually transferring neuron information from a comatose girl to his own brain. In short, this means simply: Lukas is entering the mind of comatose woman.

Besides some very acidic inceptive interference, the journey into the poor girl’s mind goes off without a hitch, and Lukas finds himself in a surreal, water filled world that’s inhabited by a beautiful woman with whom he immediately becomes infatuated. But rather than telling his colleagues in the “real world” that he has seemingly met his own personal ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Lukas gives just enough detail so that he is immediately sent back to find more, in hopes of somehow aiding the woman’s return to consciousness.

Immersion in this new found world is what Buozyte chooses to focus on for both Lukas’ narrative and her audience’s experience with Vanishing Waves. But where most other genre filmmakers would be worried about establishing a set of “rules” for the film to play by, Buozyte isn’t as concerned with the hows and whys of mind travel, but the emotional toll each trip inside takes on both Lukas and the patient’s mental state. The priorities Lukas once allowed to dominate his waking life (namely his relationship with a girlfriend of four years and his integrity with his colleagues) take a backseat to the intense connection he establishes with the beautiful figure he’s compelled to revisit again and again. Every moment the two spend together brings with it a psychic weight that hangs just as heavy around the audience’s neck as it does our protagonist’s, dragging us viewer deeper and deeper into an overwhelming realm of emotional tension and release.

The production design, visuals and composition all combine to create a uniquely unified vision. In this regard, Vanishing Waves almost seems to also share cinematic DNA with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire, as the 70’s-inspired neuron transmitters that are attached to the heads of both Lukas and the comatose woman look like cybernetic jellyfish, each tendril and sensor seemingly connected to a different piece of the subjects’ brains. Beautifully haunting in how antiseptically its been realized, the “real world” is given as much of an off-kilter feel as the surrealist landscapes of mind.

Working double time to help establish a sonic landscape to match Buozyte’s arresting visuals is composer Peter von Poehl, whose score alternates between orchestral grandeur and post rock thunder. Von Poehl’s music is just as important to the film’s most emotionally affecting moments, as his cues seem perfectly timed and just this side of manipulative.

To be honest, Vanishing Waves is a difficult film to really give a fully fleshed analysis of after only a single viewing.  Walking out, I was profoundly moved by the picture, but I also knew there were moments that I needed to take in again in order to fully consider the weight of what Buozyte was attempting to convey. Like the work of Tarkovsky before her, much of Vanishing Waves is buried beneath deep symbolism that is going to take multiple viewings to decode, but the sheer craft and love for film shines through in every frame. And just like the Russian master, it’s a movie of poetic links that truly create the emotional core of such a heady piece of science fiction. Brilliant, bold and soulful on both an emotional and intellectual level, Vanishing Waves is an incredible treat for both fans of hard sci-fi and art house fare.

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The Author

Jacob Knight

Jacob Knight

Jacob Knight is a screenwriter, novelist and journalist from Slotter, Mass. He is most times fueled by scotch, horror films and the Criterion Collection. He currently resides in Philadelphia, PA with his wife and cantankerous Westie pup.