Lieutenant Hermes Papauran, one of the best investigators of the Philippines, is in a deep moral crossroad. As a member of the police forces, he is a first-hand witness of the murderous anti-drug campaign that his institution is implementing with dedication. The atrocities are corroding Hermes physically and spiritually, causing him a severe skin disease resulting from anxiety and guilt. As he tries to heal, a dark past haunts him and has eventually come back for a reckoning.
“When the Waves Are Gone isn't as epically proportioned as A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (2016) or as politically incendiary as The Halt (2019) or Season of the Devil (2018). What it is though is Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo told only as Lav Diaz can: leisurely paced, crudely recorded (on severely monochrome Kodak 16 mm), with absolutely no music whatsoever (all onscreen singing or dancing performed a capella).
[In the past,] Diaz's direction often flirted with a noir look, its often black-and-white cinematography making dramatic use of deep digital blacks and blown-out imagery; with Waves he goes full-on noir, his night scenes almost exclusively composed of nightmare shadows and stark lighting, said compositions softened by the subtler grainier palette of 16 mm – to tell a harsh story in effect he deploys a more compassionate lens.”
“The populist persona and demeanor of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte catapulted him to such popularity unheard of in Philippine politics that everything he does, even unconstitutional and unconscionable acts like the extra-judicial killings done by the police, has semblance of entitlement, attributed mostly to the masses’ imprimatur and approval. The suffering of Lt. Hermes Papauran in the film is the suffering of the Filipino soul, the human soul. The very current shocking Ukraine invasion by Russia and the resultant brutality seems unheard of but it is just a magnification of the human malady that has been with us forever – how humanity has become so accepting to a form of psychosis in approving evil leadership, how humanity has become so helpless to a wall of petrified ignorance. Putin, Duterte, Assad, Trump... they’ve been with us forever, The Grim Reapers of the world.”
“Himself editing and designing, Lav Diaz again works with DoP Larry Manda, whose black and white photography often features tightly composed interiors that box the characters into a restrictive frame, almost like figures in Francis Bacon paintings. Visually and narratively less expansive than some other Diaz films, this is one of his stories most specifically set in the present, and most overtly decrying the Duterte regime – as opposed to, say, 2019’s The Halt, which alluded to it via a satirical future dystopia.”