A haunting take on a haunted man, Alberto Morais’ admirable feature debut “The Waves” follows its aging protag on an uncertain, intriguing journey into both his own and Spain’s past. Featuring a compelling perf by vet Carlos Alvarez-Novoa, pic will be too austere for some tastes, while the way it handles the big theme of Spain’s history may fly over the heads of offshore viewers, but this is a love story too, driven by real, universal emotions. After taking film and actor awards at Moscow, pic should roll onto further fest shores.
Miguel (Alvarez-Novoa), following the funeral of his wife, calls old friend Fernando (Armando Aguirre), sticks a fading photograph of a girl in his coat pocket, climbs into his old Renault 12 and travels to Zaragoza, which he hasn’t visited for 60 years. Moving slowly and speaking rarely, Miguel seems to be in a state of shock, but his wife’s death has also liberated him, signaled by the fact that he starts smoking furiously.
It slowly becomes clear that Miguel is retracing the steps he took many years before when, after the Spanish Civil War, he made the same journey along with many other left-wing exiles. When his car breaks down, he’s picked up by rock musician David (Sergio Caballero) and his g.f. Blanca (Laia Marull) who, recognizing that Miguel is on a significant journey, drive him to Barcelona. His aim is to reach the Argeles-sur-Mer internment camp in southern France, where he and the girl in the photograph lived and where many Spanish exiles died.
Rich with the potential for sodden tissues, pic avoids sentimentality, and the austere treatment suggests Morais has sought to strip away everything that isn’t strictly necessary. Miguel seems uncertain about the real reasons for his journey, apart from a vague desire to find closure which. Pic reps a commentary on Spain’s reluctance to face up to the horrors of its 20 th -century past; indeed, though there are plenty of Spanish films about the Civil War, this is one of the very few features to deal with the internment camps.
There is little dialogue — perhaps too little — and much time is spent simply observing Miguel, always dressed in his coat, as he explores the areas along his route where he sometimes sees visions from the past, such as early on in a Zaragoza cemetery, when he imagines a group of Francoist soldiers.
Alvarez-Novoa — best known for his turn in Benito Zambrano’s “Alone” — has his work cut out for him bringing Miguel alive, but does so magnificently, despite the fact his silence never lets the aud forget there is a lifetime of troubled emotion seething beneath his restlessness.
Things move at Miguel’s speed, which is to say slowly. The camera lingers over landscapes and details such as a cemetery wall apparently riddled with bullets, as both Miguel and the viewer work to make sense of things. Lighting in daytime scenes is muted, but at night things are shot through with rich color and shadow. Music largely consists of a guitar tutorial, representative of Miguel’s elusive struggle to bring his life to a rounded conclusion.