Waves is a very small story told very seriously. It only offers a trace of a narrative, dealing instead in a suggested past between two people who are always staring longingly at each other. This could have been annoying, or trite at the very least. And when the characters are talking, those risks are very evident. But solid performances and smart direction allows the film to overcome those pitfalls. It is little more than a trifle, but it is a well-assembled one.
Architect Ross and model Sofia (Baron Geisler and Ilona Struzik) are old friends from New York. They might even be in love, but they've never found the right time to be together. The two meet up when Sofia has a layover in the Philippines on the way back to her home and her boyfriend in New York. She decides to stay a couple of extra days, and she goes with Ross to an island getaway where they explore old feelings and reignite lingering passions.
The story is built on the temporary nature of their relationship. No matter how beautiful their surroundings, no matter how passionate their lovemaking, reality will have to intrude on their transient happiness. The film never lets them forget their real lives. Ross is out of a job, and his credit card is denied when he tries to pay for the suite. Sophia has a boyfriend waiting back at home, and the mark on her ring finger is a constant reminder that this little escapade will have to come to an end eventually.
The film explores the lies of paradise. On the sand, under the sun, everything does seem possible. But then the rains come and reality sets in. The film could be a little more sober about it all. Its best moments lie in the silence between the two, the unspoken tragedy that exists in the space between them. It is more compelling to see these characters lie to themselves, playing up the romance while wearing the knowledge of the impending end on their faces. It isn't nearly as interesting to have them lay it all out on the table, screaming in anger over what they themselves have wrought. The dialogue, stiffly written and delivered, doesn't quite do the job.
The film's canniest directorial choice lies in its casual disregard for traditional continuity. In sequences where the characters are talking, it will often cut away to disconnected footage of the characters in motion, avoiding the stillness that will force them to confront the truth of what they're doing. Not all of these cutaways work, but as an overall effect, it is rather interesting. The acting is all right. Ilona Struzik has stilted delivery at times, but she is awfully compelling in her stillness. Baron Geisler is perfectly suited for this role, the actor naturally conveying a yearning to escape from his mundane existence.
Waves is ultimately just a little sliver of something, but it is a decent little sliver. It traffics in themes that have been explored hundreds of times before, but it manages to find some novel visual ways to convey these ideas. It stops short of being profound, the narrative never quite connecting all those dots to achieve the desired effect. But there are moments where it doesn't quite matter. The movie thrives on its smallest moments, the ones where everything that needs to be said are on the actors' faces.