Vanishing Waves is the perfect example of mindfuck cinema. But where most of the films that fall within that loosely defined subgenre remain content to progressively blur the boundaries between dream and reality, Vanishing Waves goes the extra mile, giving equal weight to the second half of the term with its emphasis on the carnal aspects of its particular mind/body dilemma. The bare details of the story are perhaps nothing new, comparable to a long line of sci-fi films stretching back through Inception and Paprika and at least as far back as Dreamscape: Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) volunteers for an experiment that utilizes cutting-edge technology to enter the damaged psyche of comatose patients, whereupon he develops an illicit and eventually dangerous relationship with test subject Aurora (Jurga Jutaite). With Vanishing Waves, the qualitative difference is in the execution.
Writer-director Kristina Buozyte crafts indelibly vivid and immersive textures, whether it’s the hard-science realism with which she depicts the anechoic chamber laboratory, or the more fluidly surreal events transpiring inside Aurora’s psyche. There’s an almost tactile quality to certain sequences, especially an unhinged banquet that abruptly shifts gears from the sensual foodie indulgence of Chocolat to something deeper and darker straight out of La Grande Bouffe. It also doesn’t hurt that Buozyte takes the story in some unexpected directions, confounding certain logical expectations, and ultimately arrives at a particularly disconsolate denouement. Vanishing Waves also manages to evoke a wide variety of other science-fiction films without succumbing to the bugbear of meaningless citation, what I like to call the Tarantino syndrome. The black slab of Lukas’s sensory-deprivation tank, for example, suggests a toppled-over monolith from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey as much as it does the device in Ken Russell’s ode to devolution Altered States.
Much as the space station orbiting above the titular planet in Tarkovsky’s Solaris becomes an expressionistic extension of the character’s headspace, the world inside Aurora’s head conforms to the expansions and contractions of her mental state. An oceanic formlessness mirrors her comatose incomprehension: When her memories begin to resuscitate, they assemble into the Escher-inflected jumble of a wooden house where she and Lukas frolic in the nude, and as her recollections grow increasingly disturbed, they’re reflected in chilly modernistic spaces like an eerily empty opera house. Looked at another way, Vanishing Waves could be called a mad-scientist film. Lukas’s sexualized obsession with Aurora, and his consequent disregard for the protocols of the project, leads inexorably toward the fulfillment of Oscar Wilde’s mordant aphorism: “Every man kills the thing he loves.”
Vanishing Waves’s dreamy vibe owes everything to the hallucinatory density of its audiovisual textures: Feliksas Abrukauskas’s widescreen Scope cinematography, Peter Von Poehl’s pulsating ambient score, and Suzanne Fenn’s razor-stropped editing. Artsploitation’s DVD presentation shows their efforts to excellent advantage; as a result, the film looks and sounds as good as anything short of a Blu-ray transfer would provide. Colors are vividly presented, though the film’s palette mostly eschews vibrant primary hues, instead playing up earth tones and the ubiquitous contrast between whites and blacks. Black levels are deep and well-balanced. The disc includes two audio tracks: 5.1 surround and two-channel stereo. You’ll want to go with the surround mix for full immersion in Von Poehl’s techno soundscapes.
Artsploitation has gone all-out with their two-disc presentation of Vanishing Waves. The major inclusion here is The Collectress, Kristina Buozyte’s feature-film debut, which explores similar themes concerning the intersection of technology and human desire, though it’s shot in a more rough-and-tumble style than Vanishing Waves. A short interview with Buozyte touches on the film’s reception in Lithuania, where it went largely unscreened when it was deemed insufficiently commercial by the chain that monopolizes the country’s theaters, as well as the cinematic influence of Michelangelo Antonioni. The moderately interesting making-of featurette combines requisite glimpses behind the scenes and talking-head interviews from cast and crew. Artsploitation has also included Peter Von Poehl’s soundtrack in its entirety complete with on-screen liner notes. The illustrated booklet contains a lengthy and illuminating interview with Buozyte and co-creator Bruno Samper about their influences and working methods, as well as a more matter-of-fact exchange with actress Jurga Jutaite about her ambivalence toward acting as a profession.
Disappear into the hallucinatory dreamscapes of Vanishing Waves, looking great and packing some excellent extras on Artsploitation’s two-disc DVD set.