DVD Watch: 'Vanishing Waves'

Tender, shocking, erotic: Maybe not what you expect from Lithuania

Inside a shredded mind: Lithuanian drama "Vanishing Waves" is both poetic and brutal

Vanishing Waves begins with voices in blackness, and ends with silence in light. In between those two extremes, it seduces, terrifies and captivates with a tale of unconditional passion and an unbreakable divide between lovers.

Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) and Aurora (Jurga Jutaite) have never touched, but theirs is a relationship of the deepest intimacy. They love and fight and flee, but are always drawn back to each other. There's just one complication. Aurora is in a deep coma. Lukas is a research scientist, part of an experiment in linking human minds. Outside of a series of wires creating a cereberal link, they have never met. Lukas is a burglar who makes himself a house guest.

Odds are that Vanishing Waves (out today on DVD through Artsploitation) will be the first Lithuanian science fiction film, or possibly even the first Lithuanian film period, that many viewers will ever see. Unlike their Scandinavian neighbors across the water, the Baltic nations of Lithuiania, Latvia and Estonia have scarcely caused a ripple in world cinema. That's an omission that the burgeoning Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and market is trying to rectify, and now director Kristina Buozyte could give the region its leading light behind the camera.

Arguably she is really the co-director, because Bruno Samper's role as cowriter and "visual style author" is so inherent to the look and feel and warp and weft of the story. His designs define the world: Their environment is a visual metaphor, as Lukas tries to unravel the mystery of the girl and their connection. As Buozyte explains in an interview with Cinedigm included on the disc, his designs informed the script as much as they respond to it. The film's key location – a beach house of memories that looks like shredded paper – is re-invented throughout the film, becoming as much of a third character as Lukas' abandoned real world girlfriend.

Buozyte's long, slow gaze and Samper's designs are complimented by Peter van Poehl's remarkable, lush yet spartan soundtrack: like post-rockers Pelican at their most symphonic. Fortunately, the whole score is included on the second disc as an extra, along with Buozyte's first film, 2008's The Collectress.

Buozyte has come a long way from her debut feature/master's degree project. That was a dour piece of social realism, depicting the emotional manipulation of strangers by a children's speech therapist. That undoubtedly bore all the hallmarks of the Slavonic taste for pitch-black absurdism, whereas Vanishing Waves pays an undeniable debt to Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni.

There are strands of The Collectress visible. Buozyte dabbled there with long, uncut shots, but here the narrative depends often on the unblinking eye of the camera. There are shots here that pass beyond flinching, that make the audience really contemplate the passion and tragedy. Often illuminated with a single point light source, these moments of pursuit and passion are the polar opposite of her freshman outing: There, the protagonists are fixated on the feelings of others as something they can emulate. In Vanishing Waves, the characters here are dangerously prey to their emotions in a realm where reasoning has little place.

Riding the waves: Jurga Jutaite and Marius Jampolskis in "Vanishing Waves"

While reversing the viewpoint, Vuozyte kept Jampolskis on board between projects. After playing a sleazy video editor with Situationist aspirations in The Collectress, here he shows the slippery slope between scientific curiosity and physical obsession. But it's Jutaite who breaks the film wide open. Her often wordless depiction of the tragedy of true isolation, and her scrabbling efforts to comprehend who she is and what has happened to her, are both beautiful and devastating. In her most pivotal and understated scene, she plays out the famous dinner sequence from Tom Brown, but with an ever-spiraling sense of emotional agony as she realizes, time and again, bite after bite, that her reality is unreal. It's a hammerblow to the heart.

Vanishing Waves is in some ways a part of an accidental movement, a throwback to 1970s psychological science fiction. It shys away from the aggressive surrealism of Beyond the Black Rainbow by Canadian director Panos Cosmatos. Instead, it shares a kinship with the more character-driven pain of Upstream Color, a tale of chemically induced psychic bonding by Primer creator Shane Carruth.

All three have been festival favorites, with Vanishing Waves sweeping the board in the Fantastic Fest 2012 Fantastic Features award category. Deservedly so: Like a sometimes brutal, sometimes poetic Baltic rewriting of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Vanishing Waves questions the very definitions of love without savaging the idea of it.

Vanishing Waves is out now on two-disc DVD from Artsploitation. Also out this week:

Graceland (Image) One for the shelves from local distribution house Drafthouse Films. A searing indictment of the kidnapping industry and family hypocracy in Philippines (read our review here and then catch up on our interview with director Rom Morales here.)

Pieta (Image) A double week for Drafthouse. Director Kim Ki-duk's queasy Korean family drama took home the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival 2012 (read our review here.)

Ginger & Rosa Elle Ganning and Alive Englert fall towards adulthood together in mid-60s Britain (read our review here.)

The Bitter Buddha (Passion River) Eddie Pepitone remains the consumate comedian's comedian, but Steven Feinatz's documentary rips back the green room curtain to find the real rage and pain behind the act (read our Austin Film Festival 2012 review here.)

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (IFC) Part archive footage, part new interviews and part reconstruction, a new attempt to get in the head of America's most unassuming serial killer (read our SXSW 2012 review here.)

Trance (20th Century Fox) James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class) in Danny Boyle's deceptive psychosexual thriller in the world of art theft (read our review here.)

Welcome to the Punch (MPI) More McAvoy, this time playing cops and robbers with Mark Strong (star of AMC's upcoming adaptation of Low Winter Sun and the BBC drama on which it is based.)

Dragons: Riders of Berk (20th Century Fox) The surprisingly entertaining first season of the TV spinoff from Dreamworks' surprisingly entertaining 2010 animation How to Train Your Dragon. Color us officially interested in the sequel, scheduled for 2014.

Babette's Feast (Criterion) Gabriel Axel's 1987 Oscar winning tale of an aging Danish religious sect having dinner may sound dry and stale, but it's a sumptuous and charming tale of the power of a good homecooked meal.

The Silence (Music Box Film) Disturbing and chilling German crime drama bridging the gap between two identical murders 23 years apart.

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DVD Watch, Fantastic Fest, Artsploitation, Vanishing Waves, Lithuania, Kristina Buozyte, Bruno Samper, Jurga Jutaite, Marius Jampolskis

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