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MOVIES (GFF 2023): When The Waves Are Gone - Review

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Three hours feels comparatively like a short film for Lav Diaz; an experienced master of the slow cinema genre. This film feels accessible for him too – a 3 hour labyrinth of a personal drama akin to something like Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but what follows is not a detective drama as straightforward but instead grappling with the weight of a man’s consequences of his own actions; a confrontation that echoes that of the best final showdowns in cinema history: think The Good, the Bad the Ugly, Barry Lyndon, stuff like that – drawn out from a character study of flawed men in a system set up to fail them.

The film follows an insight into the country’s law enforcement and it captures a big call about Filipino politics – split between two corrupt police officers who we both follow to varying degrees; a wife beater and a corrupt officer – Hermes (John Lloyd Cruz), and Macabanty (Ronnie Lazaro), once student and master – turned against each other when the student betrayed the master for his corruption. But now the student is on his own – having resigned from his job. If I told you that the film draws from Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo, everything clicks together – a loose adaption – transported to a different country; different context – but I’ll always recognise the bear-bones of one of my favourite books.

When The Waves Are Gone is no easy watch when its characters are hard to care for; it’s a bleak and morbid affair – but one that’s shot superbly. Fascinating discussions about morality and corrupt fascist governments populate the film’s early hours, and the film offers a statement on courage and fear in a simple catchup with a crime photographer played by Dms Boongaling. It’s a cry against the Duterte regime at its core – not holding back because it dare not; using these two characters as its lense – a corrupt, bad cop and another, equally bad - who has apparently “found God”, but not in the way you’d expect. It’s a quest of self-discovery for lack of a better term – at one point; a cop takes a group of girls home and confesses; exhausted in his bed, his past.

Rich philosophical discussions are When The Waves Are Gone’s biggest strengths – in addition to its cinematography from DoP Larry Manda, whose grainy black and white photography gives When The Waves Are Gone its depth – and openly challenges a system put in place to subjugate it. Masterclass.

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