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Between Waves film review


Directed by: Virginia Abramovich

Written by: Virginia Abramovich and Katherine Andrews

Starring: Fiona Graham, Luke Robinson, Miguel Damiao


A man and a woman face away from each other underwater while a metaphysical line divides them.
Film poster for Between Waves

Jamie (Graham) is trying to deal with the loss of her boyfriend Isaac (Robinson) who fell into the river one night and never resurfaced. As a fashion/entertainment photographer she has access to a wide range of 'coping mechanisms' of which she prefers the Benzos, but unfortunately these don't seem to be helping too much. She has started having flashbacks to earlier trauma experienced in her childhood, and what isn't helping either is that Isaac seems to keep popping up in random places and running away from her. Here then, you may say to yourself, is a rather solid set-up for a psychological drama exploring the theme of loss, until that is, Jamie manages to catch up to Isaac one time and it turns out to actually be him.

Or at least a version of him.

Here Isaac suddenly decides to face Jamie and seems surprised she's there, even though she's been running after him and calling him repeatedly. He tries to explain to her what's going on in nonsensical gobbledigook, mentioning story markers like 'his research', 'finding a way to cross-over' and 'this dimension' before looking at a futuristic GPS on his wristband and disappearing back into the water. And now you're watching an entirely different movie.

Luckily the themes haven't changed, just their mode of representation and delivery, and even though the sci-fi element is a bit jarring at first it becomes easier to take as the film progresses. So now Jamie is set on a manhunt, using the direction of this elusive Isaac to take a previously planned trip to the Azores, where she may be able to piece the clues together and find out who he really is.

In between times flashbacks are interspersed with real time narrative and backstory is filled in on Jamie and Isaac's relationship as well as his career as a quantum physicist. There's lots of heavy, intense imagery of crashing waves, crying in the shower and standing in the wind and the rain to help connect the audience to Jamie's emotions, whilst she simultaneously explores the island of Sao Miguel and keeps seeing other versions of Isaac and herself.

Isaac's colleague, too, is hot on Jamie's heels and is determined to get her hands on his top secret research, while the detective investigating the original Isaac's death is also closing in. These threads continue to weave their way in the background of the narrative, revealing themselves as necessary to keep things moving along, while also serving to allow the audience to keep at least one foot grounded in reality. Are we really watching the transposition of several planes of existence, or is it simply the descent into madness from someone trying to deal with their grief, or is there really no difference at all between these two things? Such are the questions asked by writer/director Virginia Abramovich in Between Waves, her debut directorial feature.

These are intensely personal questions for Abramovich, watching as she did her father suffer and decline from bipolar disorder, whilst wondering to herself what he could possibly be experiencing when to him his visions seemed so real. This connection to the material is very apparent in Jamie's character and also in her portrayal by Fiona Graham, who Abramovich worked closely with for a significant time prior to filming. For a lot of the film, Graham's performance can tend to be the only thing holding the piece together or the audience engaged. Luke Robinson as Isaac, while bringing a certain charisma and screen presence to the role, is less certain in who his character is supposed to be and this results in a disappointingly stilted performance. The script, for all that it holds personal gravitas for the film-makers, doesn't do the story any justice and because of this a lot of the elements seem out of place. The science of the narrative is barely explained or used and Jamie's seeming ability to also 'cross-over' is generally fluffed-up and passed-by before a light can be shone over it. There is an over-use of heavy imagery and artistic licence in place of actual plot or character development and for this the overall film suffers.

For all that though, Between Waves does look beautiful. The imagery is splashed everywhere for the audience to look at and director of photography Jason Webber does a fantastic job of making sure the colours pop when they need to while everything else stays muted and grey, giving the whole thing a definitive Scandi-noir feel. Abramovich sets up her scenes perfectly and these are edited together seamlessly so that every action seems natural and logical in the progression of the story, even if the story itself would have benefited from having been told in a different sequence or from another standpoint. The direction is faultless and there are some truly spectacular shots that Abramovich achieves, yet somehow there is something procedural about the whole flow of the film that would be better suited to a TV drama. At points this becomes distracting enough for the audience to wonder if the plot actually makes any sense or if it's just an excuse to have intense scenes on rocky outcrops while the sea rages on behind.

Between Waves is one of those none too rare beasts of a film that suffers from not knowing what it really wants to be – although it is obvious that it's trying too hard to be Inception. The sci-fi and the psychological elements don't always marry well and the open ending doesn't help the audience to decide one way or the other either. There is a point in the denouement that resonates deeply with the emotions Jamie has been wrestling with for the entire film and which is deeply affecting, but then it gets overshadowed by the reintroduction of the science-fiction thread and is completely blown out of the water.

In the end Between Waves sits in a difficult middle ground of a good film that could have been great. There is plenty that is done well but also just as much that isn't. Technically Between Waves is very proficiently made, however, narratively it falls short of its mark – whichever of several marks it was actually aiming for.

Between Waves is now available on Digital



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