Review: Invisible Waves (2005)

The second collaboration between Pen-ek Ratanaruang, cinematographer Chris Doyle, script writer Prabda Yoon and actor Tadanobu Asano after Last Life in the Universe is in my opinion an even better work, regardless of its technical faults, jarring changes in plot direction and stilted performances.

Simply as an extremely raw mood piece with astonishingly drawn out sequences devoid of elaborate fantasy, Invisible Waves was for me thoroughly captivating. When I think of it now, some months after viewing it for the first and only time, the scenes of Tadanobu on the ship crossing from Macau to Thailand dominate my memories. He is captured wandering around with aimless ambition in one of those tests of an audience’s capacity to endure monumental tracts of time spent watching someone do nothing. Or is it nothing? Perhaps the innocuous moments add up and offer something for us to clutch at. The way he walks (with a kind of forlorn destiny, but in my own sweet time thank you very much), particular symbols evident in the set or composition, the rare lines of dialogue – all of these things might have something to tell us, or make us feel. There might be an old fashioned ‘story of the sea’ worth unraveling from the intricate assemblage of small details, something about the power of the flat and seemingly endless open sea to provide perspective and influence a man’s sense of himself. There might be, and probably is, but not for me. Instead, I’m more enamoured with the picture as one of those vehicles that takes you away somewhere utterly unnatural and other worldly, then gives you the mental and emotional elbow room to deal with the new experience whooshing by at 24 frames per second in your own personal way.

Sometimes I think the very best of these kinds of movies leave you with a set of thoughts and feelings that you can’t really express on paper, certainly not right away and probably not until you’ve seen the picture a few times and while actively trying to appreciate the material from more than one point of view. For some reason I have strong feelings about the use of murky green colour in the picture, the placement of large objects in the foreground with off-center compositions (a variation for Doyle, who often puts translucent globules in the foreground and uses framing objects to surround characters in the center of frame) and especially adore the minimal piano tinkles that comprise the sound score. I’m not sure I could keep a straight face while developing a case for the pleasure these elements provide, so I won’t start. Nor do I have any gripes over the appearance of the boom and microphone in more than one shot and the very obvious lack of motion of the ship when it’s supposed to be at sea: don’t these moments just add to the overall mood of ‘something being not quite right’, the curious feeling of unease that makes the film mysterious, different, challenging and enjoyable?

There’s no doubt that Invisible Waves is a confrontational exercise that is best suited to viewers yearning for a little cinematic journeying and discovery, if not outright navel gazing. My fondness for it may be founded on fairly soft ground, but sometimes the stuff that penetrates deepest is the damned toughest to figure out.

9 contemplative passages out of 10.
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