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VENICE 2022 Out of Competition

Review: When the Waves Are Gone


- VENICE 2022: Filipino great Lav Diaz makes another gruelling revenge tragedy, this time focusing on two dirty cops with a grudge

Review: When the Waves Are Gone
John Lloyd Cruz and Shamaine Buencamino in When the Waves Are Gone

As much as Lav Diaz’s work exists on the outer limits of narrative cinema, with his films’ ever-unfurling running times and their elliptical plotting, he still has a penchant, or a weakness, for a well-spun yarn. Norte, the End of History, his most widely seen work (which is no coincidence, with it being one of his only films shot in colour), gained a vital support structure from so closely adhering to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, as it glimpsed the mental disintegration of a young intellectual after a miscarriage of justice. Here, in his Venice Out of Competition premiere When the Waves Are Gone [+see also:
interview: Lav Diaz
film profile
– touted as a more marketable return to form for the erstwhile Golden Lion and Golden Leopard winner – he has loosely adapted Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo to tell a mournful, baleful tale of national decline in his country’s corrupt Duterte era. In keeping with its early 19th-century aura and inspirations, it gently builds towards a suspenseful confrontation sequence not far from the pistols-at-dawn climax of Barry Lyndon.

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There’s definitely a tension that Diaz can’t quite unravel between the deterministic end point that his story is heading towards, and everything else he wants to capture so passionately and angrily about recent Filipino politics. A fatalistic predictability sets in as we anticipate the two bad lieutenants of his story – as if Harvey Keitel and Nicolas Cage were adversaries in the same film – waiting and postponing across the three-hour length of the movie for their face-off. There’s also a certain predictability seen through its embrace of the narrative cliché, familiar from films like Heat, of these enemies as mirror images, forever trying to outwit their reflections.

As prime movers in the country’s corrupt law enforcement, together set to eke out a pointless, paranoid national “War on Drugs” into eternity, Hermes (John Lloyd Cruz) and Macabanty (Ronnie Lazaro) were tentative allies once – the former was the latter’s student and protégé, before helping to turn him in on corruption charges, belatedly discovering his moral compass. Once Macabanty gets a reprieve on his prison sentence, he seeks revenge on his former colleague (in the strongest echo of Dumas’s text), who is undergoing hard times of his own as his skin disintegrates from psoriasis and he faces his own investigation for domestic abuse.

So, as that brief synopsis states, Diaz has quite the talent for conveying utter, rampant bleakness, denying his protagonists any kind of moral identification from the audience, yet still making them compelling figures to watch as they nurse their inner torment. And his gift for hair-raising, non-narrative detours is still in evidence, as we watch through our fingers as Macabanty performs perverse baptism rituals on the sex workers he brings up to a grotty hotel room. The narrative sweep of this film slowly whisks us away and consumes us, like a storm bearing down on an eerily deserted beach.

When the Waves Are Gone is a co-production of the Philippines, France, Denmark and Portugal, staged by Epicmedia Productions, Films Boutique, Rosa Filmes and Snowglobe Films. Its world sales are handled by Films Boutique.

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