When the Waves are Gone (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

September 6th, 2022
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir. Lav Diaz; Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Ronnie Lazaro, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, DMs Boongaling; Philippines/France/Portugal/Denmark 2022, 187 min.

Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz has delivered, at least by his own standards, one of the shortest features of his career. Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Christo’, this is one of many revenge stories in the Diaz canon. The international co-production allows “the master of the slow cinema” more time, and Diaz can also afford the talented DoP Larry Manda, who shot A Lullaby and Norte for him, behind the camera, allowing the auteur free rein to let his imagination fly. The result is another stunning “immersing” experience, Diaz drawing the audience into his world on another melancholy journey through recent Philippine history.

Diaz’ heroes are permanently on the run, hunted by government agencies, usually in the shape of the police. They have an ecliptic journey in front of them and this often transports them back to former traumata. But here the roles are reversed, and we meet Police inspector Hermes Papauran (Cruz) discussing a murderous anti-drug police campaign under the control of the former president Duterte, with the documentary filmmaker Raffy Lerma (Boongaling).

At first Hermes appears to be the hero of the piece, haunted by the psychotic inspector Supremo Macabantai (Lazaro) and suffering from psoriasis, largely brought on by his own guilt. But it soon emerges that Hermes had been taught the tricks of the trade by Macabantai, only for the student to turn against his master, denouncing his corrupt methods of getting rid of drug dealers when in reality killing innocent people – by making them ‘disappear.’

Supremo has been just released from prison, an official voice on the ‘phone informs him that Duterte himself helped to get his pardon. When Hermes reads a notice accusing him of being a wife-beater on his whiteboard he resigns, telling his students that he is indeed a perpetrator. Later we will hear more from Raffy who has been accused by Duterte of forging the images of the murder spree by the police.

Meanwhile, Supremo tries to hide his murderous instinct behind the pose of a man of God who wants to baptise everyone he meets, with a focus on sex workers (to whom he is drawn like a magnet). One woman pays with her life, and the sequence where Supremo is seen embalming her body is particularly chilling.

Supremo and Hermes moving around the country like the characters in a Western, but here they communicate by text. A positive identification comes in the shape of Hermes’ sister Nerissa (Buencamino)), a teacher. Her husband, Pedro, is one of the many who disappeared without trace and Nerissa blames her brother for his loss – their meetings in a spooky beach house on the edge of the water is another highlight. But Supremo has sworn to wipe out his former student’s entire family.

Diaz’ characters are always drawn to mythical places, in this case the location is St. Isidro. Here Supremo collapses after dancing for hours in the street and recounting the story of how he became Hermes’ victim, to a group of sex workers. We will return here later when the Fernando Hotel will play a central role in further revelations. Supremo and Hermes dance a deadly duet, and we are also lost in the trail of violence, with the ocean taking on the role of a would-be liberator: the beach house becoming the symbol of decay which is claimed back by the titular waves.

Cinematographer Larry Manda uses two different forms of black-and-white images: during the day it is a luminous version, but at night (where most of the action is set), the shadowy world produces a grainier, more threatening world.

Like all Diaz features, this is a work of sorrow, the audience becomes unwittingly involved in the apocalyptic struggle, lost in the languorous images and sucked into an emotional odyssey that is the Philippine filmmaker’s universe. AS


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia