'Between Waves' Dives into an Ocean of Grief Directed by Virginia Abramovich
Starring Fiona Graham, Luke Robinson, Miguel Damião
Published Sep 13, 2021It's a futile thing to do, scream at the sea. We're too small in the face of its breaking waves, in the face of its seismic surge and unrepentant ebbing.
There is a scene in Virginia Abramovich's directorial debut (she co-writes alongside Katherine Andrews), multiverse thriller Between Waves, in which protagonist Jamie (Fiona Graham) chases her presumed-dead lover Isaac (Luke Robinson) into the Atlantic, begging for him to stay with her. He doesn't, and she's left on the shore screaming as though her soul were being ripped from her body. It's a stunning scene for the way it casts grief in stark relief against an indifferent world.
Between Waves excels in such moments of intense heartbreak juxtaposed against unfeeling, indifferent voids, of the universe and nature. Abramovich's debut is a well-executed feature for this reason, exploring the violence and voluptuousness of grief. This is a great Toronto film, well worth your time.
Dividing its time between Toronto's Kensington Market and the island of São Miguel, Azores, Between Waves follows photographer Jamie in the aftermath of her quantum physicist boyfriend's mysterious death. Jamie continues to be visited by visions of Isaac around the city, days after the discovery of his body in a river, and she believes he's visiting her from another dimension. Isaac's research, before his death, focused on the idea that it's possible to jump from one plane of existence to another, each plane's narrative determined by a choice we did or did not make, and that water is the conduit that facilitates this kind of travel. Jamie, mired in grief, begins obsessively working over Isaac's research so she might understand his theory and figure out how to join a living version of Isaac. In her efforts to get closer to Isaac, she takes the vacation the two had planned to São Miguel, where she begins seeing iterations of herself, the products of various of her choices. As she runs about the island, she tries to work through her grief and figure out what exactly it is she wants in life.
Between Waves excels in atmospheric and sonic storytelling. The score is lush and absorbing, at times effectively grating, and it works super well to move the story along, building an almost claustrophobic air that is only heightened by an absence of light. Twilight in Toronto is electric, and Abramovich's eye harnesses this energy in Between Waves, housing so much of Jamie's sadness in an ephemeral blue light. This cinematographic choice underscores the film's ambiguity: is Jamie going insane from heartbreak, or is she really seeing Isaac in a parallel universe? This close atmosphere isn't lost when the film takes us to São Miguel, turning the stunning island into something like the gothic moorland in a Brontë novel: a violent and rugged landscape that complements Jamie's tormented soul running wild with possibilities and eventualities.
In one stunningly terrifying scene, Jamie is on the beach in front of the roiling sea, chasing happy versions of herself who smile back at her from a contented reality. This is an existentially petrifying event: it's galling to be smiled at by a happy person — especially when it is one's own self — while feeling utterly broken. A silent helplessness falls over Jamie in this scene, despite the thundering sea. She screams, to no avail, a cracking and splintering scream, but it's still such a small scream in comparison to the vast crashing waves.
Abramovich and Graham paint a stunning visual of what the emptiness of grief feels like. Graham is great in her physical anguish at the loss of the love of her life, in her desperation as she runs around grasping at spectres of Isaac.
Between Waves is a gripping debut, with entertaining mysterious and philosophical elements that work well together to create an absorbing friction. Its shortcomings (certain supporting performances fall flat) can be easily overlooked for Graham's wrenching portrayal of Jamie and for Abramovich and Andrews' compelling storytelling. Virginia Abramovich is a Canadian talent to not only keep an eye out for but also to be proud of. (Vortex Media)