Another Kind of Road, Another Kind of Movie

in 33rd Moscow International Film Festival

by Marco Lombardi

It’s more and more difficult to come up with something new in movie-making, everything seems to have been already tested and done. And when one encounters a structure that is not “new”, one becomes instinctively suspicious of imitation. Thus at the introduction of The Waves (Las olas) one cannot help the deja-vu effect of road-movie genre formula, which one would think would be the last narrative structure a first time director would reach for. On the other hand, a road-movie allows for flexibility of story and characters, whose symbolic reading depends to a great extent on the historical and social context of the film’s reception. Luckily, the Spanish film The Waves is an the kind of road-movie that is wide open to interpretation, and became therefore the recipient of the FIPRESCI jury award at the 33rd International Moscow Film Festival, as well as of the main festival award “Golden George”.

Miguel lives in Madrid. He’s very old, and suffers from a kind of narcolepsy. In spite of that he decides to embark on a long journey to the south of France, to a small town called Argelés-sur-mer. We however are not told immediately as to why Miguel makes this decision, which is particularly disorienting in a road-move, where the reasons for the journey are usually explained up front. In spite of his son’s anxiety, Miguel gets in his car, which seems to be as old as he is, and keeps breaking down. With no automobile insurance, it becomes soon evident that Miguel would not be able to get very far if it were not for a couple of young people he comes across. The young man seems irritable, that’s why Miguel continues his journey with the girl. She takes him to Barcelona in her own car. This is the best part of the film as the relationship between them seems quite casual on the surface, but runs deeply in a seducing way. They don’t tell each other much about themselves, but seem very close all the same. Miguel shows her a picture of the woman who happens to be the very reason for his journey. Gradually, we get accustomed to the old man’s memory lapses, which mix present with past, memory and reality, and realize that he was a Republican fighter, and met the woman during the Spanish civil war. The old man tells his newly found companion that he could only take this journey on the wake of his wife’s death after more than fifty years of marriage. “I don’t know”, he responds when asked whether he loved his wife. He is though at last free to find out something important about his past, although the journey seems to be more important than the result. As life itself is always more important than the goals achieved.

On the road, the weather is unstable and rain alternates with sunshine. However the camera keeps registering the weather and the continuously changing landscape in the same disinterested and sleepy way, remaining focused on the old man’s state of mind as he is trying to excavate from history and from his personal memories how he it happened that he was robbed from the life he might have had. For this reason The Waves is kind of a silent film, in which you can hear only the sound of the waves of Miguel’s stream of consciousness, desperately searching for truth and rest.

Carlos Alvarez Nóvoa — the actor who plays Miguel — seems to identify with his character much more than an actor is expected to do. For fifty years he has enjoyed a continuous stage career, but his performance in The Waves is not theatrical at all. Therefore the Best Actor award was a fully deserved honour, adding up to his international success at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 1999, where he received the Best Actor award for his role in Alone (Solas, 1999, Spain, dir. Benito Zambrano).

Although The Waves is director Alberto Morais’ first feature, it unequivocally reveals his talent, artistic sensibility and maturity. Everything in this film reminds of poetry, born from happiness and sorrow, that is — from life.