Interviews

Sensory Deprivation and Cinema: A Chat with Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper of ‘Vanishing Waves’


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In a world of rampant filmmaking, it’s always nice to discover a true piece of “Cinema” that leaves a mark and inspires one to think differently about the medium. For me, the Lithuanian film Vanishing Waves managed to rattle my senses and stayed on my mind long after the final credit. As the first director to make a Science Fiction film in her native Lithuania, Kristina Buožytė offers a visionary cinematic experience with her second feature, and her Creative Director Bruno Samper was an integral part of the process. Together, they co-wrote Buožytė’s feature debut The Collectress (Kolekcionierė) and recently collaborated on the “K is for Knell” segment in The ABCs of Death 2.

With subtle reflections of Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky, Vanishing Waves tells the story of Lukas (Marius Jampolskis), a scientist, who participates in a sensory deprivation experiment with a comatose patient named Aurora (Jurga Jutaite). After the initial connection with the subject, Lukas returns for numerous erotic encounters with Aurora while misleading his superiors about his experiences. As Lukas distances himself more and more from reality and dives into a lush dreamscape of vibrant colors, the filmmakers offer confounding and surrealistic images designed to project an ideal. But whose is it?

Vanishing Waves boasts a creative energy that mixes brilliantly with the performances of the two leads. Upon first viewing, it was obvious that Buožytė and Samper did their homework, and the polished production contains visuals that are both provocative and sublimely beautiful. Given the metaphysical nature and outstanding direction, I had to speak with the filmmakers about their process and was utterly thrilled to connect with both Kristina Buožytė and Bruno Samper for a Skype interview.

Where did the initial concept come from and how long did the pre-production process take?

Kristina Buožyte: At the beginning we really wanted to do an adventure movie, but we knew we couldn’t afford the budget it needed. So, we decided to do an inner-adventure movie. It took us four years to make Vanishing Waves: a year for writing, a year for preproduction — but we had already started to think about visual concepts during the scriptwriting. We started to think how to make it possible — to make such a movie with such a budget in Lithuania. We had to be very rational and very pragmatic about what was most needed for the story.

The opening credits sequence caught my attention right away, especially the lab interior. Was that something that you instantly saw in your mind or did it come about over time?

Bruno Samper: It came over time. As Kristina said, when writing the script in pre-production we were trying to research and visualize what it could be. So, for the laboratory there were different versions. The inspiration came from what is called an anechoic chamber; a specific room used in the test lab. It could be sound proof; it could be magnetic wave proof. They (scientists) use it when they have to test a new electronic device and it’s totally wave proof.

Kristina Buožytė: There are different sorts of anechoic chambers, and we chose between different kinds of wall patterns.

Bruno Samper: They do the brain transfer in this room, and there shouldn’t be magnetic or electromagnetic disturbance from the outside. In fact, the process of the design was very pragmatic. It wasn’t designed just for design. We thought, ‘How would a scientist proceed if they were doing this experiment for real? How would it be more credible?’ The visuals had to come from the function — from the logic. But we had to keep the right balance between the realism and the cinegenic aspect. It’s very interesting because when you start from the function, the aesthetic could become even more rich than making things totally from the imagination. It was a process.

Kristina Buožytė: When everything comes from your imagination, it’s very hard to grab onto something because you can do whatever. You are the only reference. It can work for you, but it might not work for the audience. Everything in the movie had to get its own logic system – very, very strict logic. We chose our logic and tried to be open. I think for Bruno and I, it was the way to go. We searched for its own logic.

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You had many consultants for the film. What was the biggest surprise that you found about neuroplasticity?

Kristina Buožytė: For me, the biggest surprise was about the scientists themselves. Because in my life, I was communicating a lot with doctors. My family has doctors and know the surroundings — and doctors are very grounded. Scientists are grounded but they are also very creative. They are some kind of artist and they are crazy. They let themselves dream. Doctors are responsible for human health, so they need to be pragmatic. This difference was, for me, a surprise.

Bruno Samper: The most amazing discovery about brain plasticity was brain plasticity itself. The concept is really amazing. Imagine – your brain is a constant work in progress. It’s changing all the time in your life; it’s rewiring and changing. If you do research on your brain after one year, it’s absolutely not the same. Physically, you are not the same person. A person evolves all of their life. The brain evolves constantly. You are not the same person from the day before. It’s amazing because there is a continuity about memories, but this continuity is an illusion. There is no continuity in the personality. The person is just a succession of a different person day after day.

Christopher Nolan had a water capsule in Interstellar, and you had the same thing in Vanishing Waves. Is that something you learned from the consultants or was that planned all along?

Bruno Samper: No, it was just because in the process of writing, we were trying to be the most credible as possible.

Kristina Buožytė: We were keeping to this logic; we wanted to put Lukas into the same state as Aurora. She’s in a coma and her senses are limited. So, we wanted to do the same with Lukas and that’s why we used the Sensory Deprivation Tank.

Bruno Samper: Sensory Deprivation Tank; it’s a well-known technique to isolate from all the outside stimuli. All the set up was like Matryoshka dolls: first the Anechoic room, then the sensory deprivation tank, then the head, then the secret. And Lukas has to pass these steps one by one to reach Aurora.

Kristina Buožytė: Bruno, it was your tribute to Kubrick!

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I saw three films by French director Alain Robbe-Grillet on MUBI and noticed a similarity in your work. Was he an inspiration at all? 

Bruno Samper: To be honest, I never saw the movies of Alain Robbe-Grillet. I know him because he is an important figure in France because of Le nouveau Roman. But I never read anything, I never watched anything. I don’t think Kristina watched anything from him. So, we are totally virgins to the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet. But what is strange is what you’re saying; our sales agent was getting the rights of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s collection — he was selling Vanishing Waves at the same time as selling the collection of movies of Alain Robbe-Grillet. I don’t know…there is probably some serendipity. Some ghost connection. We’ve been conscious of this.

Tell me about the casting of Marius Jampolskis and Jurga Jutaite. You worked with Marius before; how did you find Jurga?

Kristina Buožytė: I was searching for a long time for Aurora, and Jurga came somehow by accident. But I’m very happy that she came. Jurga was acting in features already in Lithuania, and I knew from movies — not personally – that it’s nice to find your own brilliant diamond; your own actress or actor. I was searching and searching. Finally, my casting crew said, ‘Kristina, let’s invite Jurga.’ So, she came and I grabbed one look at her and it was Aurora because he had the simplicity, and she had this high class. She had many aspects inside — naturally. So, I was totally drawn to her and it was a good find; a good catch. But of course, we had rehearsed a lot and I knew Jurga had to be in different states all the time. So, she lost weight — not to act but to live through. For her, she was very close to her character. She went inside her character. Through all the preparation and shooting, she was Aurora. She really did a very good job.

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How much was improvised? I loved the scene when Lukas and Aurora are rolling round in the light and also the lunch scene (knife on the tongue!). Was that improvised or scripted?

Kristina Buožytė: Everything was scripted!

Bruno Samper: It would depend on the play on the ground.

Kristina Buožytė: It was really funny, because the scene about playing with food came from….Bruno, what video did you show to me?

Bruno Samper: “Splosh?”

Kristina Buožytė: Yes! Ok, so I showed them this “Splosh” video with different foods on their face. The actors looked at me like, ‘OK…,’ because I was coming with many different ideas like, ‘Today you will lick the eye, and today we will try to play something.’ For this food scene, I made some kind of liquid thing and we put plastic everywhere and said, “OK – play!” Marius is very picky and for him it’s not natural at all. So, he had to outgrow it.

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What is “Splosh?”

Bruno Samper: “Splosh” is a sexual practice. The savant name is sitophilia. They get some excitation to play with food and to be covered with food — chocolate, pasta….you know. It’s very rare, but it’s a really interesting sexual practice. It’s very fascinating because it’s very transgressive. One of the first rules when you are kids is not to play with food. It’s one of those forbidden things. So, it was a process. They go back to some things in the unconscious. They push the limits of what is forbidden. So, it was about their childhood.

Kristina Buožytė: Every connection was built on Lucas and what he experienced as a child. The bath — when the child comes up from the water — or when he sees very abstract shapes. So, we made it like this when he was underwater and goes into the lake. We added things about him getting mature little by little. It was a way of searching.

What is the role of video games in Lukas’ mental map? How does that tie into his experience down under?

Bruno Samper: When you project yourself inside a virtual world, there is a recreation of yourself. So, there was a connection with the video game, an obvious connection. You project yourself in a virtual reality when you’re better and bigger as a person. So, it was interesting.

Kristina Buožytė: Also, it was the game itself.

Bruno Samper: Yeah. About this game “Ico.” The boy has to escape from a fortress and it’s very symbolic. The citadel represents something enclosed. The goal is to help a little girl. His mission is to help her and form some intimate connection with her. It was symbolic of what Lukas is trying to do. “Ico” is a very interesting game. I was meeting some psychologists and they used it with autistic children; they are enclosed in some kind of fortress. It’s hard to make a connection with somebody else but when they do it’s very strong. It was a very interesting metaphor.

I noticed that Lukas had trouble finding items in his own home in real life and seemed to be more comfortable in his world underneath.

Kristina Buožytė: I think this is a problem with many people. They feel better inside their heads and imagination than real life.

Bruno Samper: We shaped the character of Lukas as idealistic. He’s projecting some kind of ideal. The reality is not good enough for him. We don’t know if he’s projecting his own ideal in Aurora’s head and all of the movie is about this. Is what we are seeing real or totally a projection of Lukas’ ideal? We wanted to make his reality cold and gray – not very sexy — so we shot in winter. The world of the mind takes place in summer with warmer colors. We wanted this expressionist contrast. We wanted to have the sensation — for the audience, also — that the world of Aurora is better. ‘We don’t want to come back. We want to stay here!’

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I enjoyed the 4-minute scene when Lukas chases Aurora to the beach. Was that one take or did you have to do that over? And how did the cameraman hold up?

Kristina Buožytė: We did it over and over. So, it’s good that it seemed like one shot. We were aiming for that strongly. I mean, the actors were suffering more than cameraman, because he was sitting with a steadycam in a jeep and they were running and running and running and running. When we were shooting, all the crew wore winter jackets, gloves, and hats — and the actors are naked. When Lukas was in the water at night, it was five degrees or something. The world of cinema.

Where was that scene shot at?

Kristina Buožytė: In Lithuania. The whole movie was shot in Lithuania.

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I used to work in TV post-production in Hollywood for several years, so I know how long the post process can take. How long did it take to put all the visual effects together?

Bruno Samper: One year.

Kristina Buožytė: I think more. We picked our grading and little things. It was more than one year.

Bruno Samper: We made the movie and after there wasn’t enough money for the post-production that we wanted. So, it took a long time to find good partners. When you don’t have money, you are not the main priority of the company. So, they do it when they have time. You lose energy when it’s not perfect and you have to redo it. But we really have to thank the post companies “Okta”, “La Planéte Rouge” and “Alchemy 24.” They did an exceptional job.

Kristina Buožytė: It was long, but it was positive in general because they loved the project. It is very hard to get the best quality when you don’t have money. Because of this, the movie was balancing on the edge from the beginning.

I watched your segment “K is for Knell” in The ABCs of Death 2 anthology and it was honestly my favorite. What I found unique is that you didn’t explicitly show a violent death like the other filmmakers. It was very Hitchcockian. How were you approached for the project?

Kristina Buožytė: I was just contacted. I think it was a guy from our U.S. distributor who suggested us – Travis Crawford who became a friend — but I don’t know the details. The producer of ABCs came and asked if we would be interested. Yes, of course, we’d be interested. Also, I think it was the feminine problem in the movies. Somebody saw Vanishing Waves and it happened probably because I’m a woman. We had the opportunity and it wasn’t easy at all.

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Who was your actress and how did you come up with the Red Riding Hood theme? 

Kristina Buožytė: I was aware of her (Julija Steponaityte) for some years, because she has a very interesting face. I was dreaming to find a project to work with her and when we came up with the idea for “Knell” I was sure 100 percent it would be her. At that time, she was acting in another film and we waited a bit until she finished. She not a professional actress, but in the movies that doesn’t count – either the person has it or doesn’t.

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Bruno, I know “K is for Knell” was your directorial debut. Do you want to do more shorts or do you want to work on a feature next?

Bruno Samper: A feature! But still as a duo with Kristina. We have great plans for the future.

Who are some current filmmakers that you’re into now and which filmmakers inspired you in the past?

Kristina Buožytė: That’s a very good question…classical filmmakers whose works are tested by time. It depends on what project we’re currently working on. So, it’s shifting from filmmakers who are good to learn from and to see how they do the things — and to study them. For me, it was Polanski, Greenaway and Antonioni. It was also Hitchcock. I was studying European film directors at the Lithuanian Film Academy, and I started to find American directors — not to watch films but to study them and appreciate them more through Bruno. Through him, I started to watch, study and learn from American directors like Spielberg, Coppola, Fincher, Zemeckis, Cameron, Friedkin…we are also great fans of Korean directors like Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho and Kim Jee-woon. And we are very impressed by the artistic ambition of directors like Gaspar Noé and Philippe Grandrieux.

I did notice a bit of Rear Window in your The ABCs of Death 2 segment. Was Hitchcock an inspiration?

Kristina Buožytė : No, Hitchcock wasn’t a conscious inspiration. Not for me, at least. But you know whatever you do with windows will be compared to Rear Window.

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Where do you see yourselves in five years and what developments in the film industry excite you?

Kristina Buožytė: We have two brilliant projects that we are working on. I hope that in five years we’ll manage to do our dream project, but at the moment we’re searching for a production company or strong producer.

Bruno Samper: Personally, I come from the medium of video games, so I’ve experimented a lot in this way. In cinema, I like more of a traditional way of making movies. One day I heard an interview with an old school producer…I don’t remember the name. It was this question: “Do you think that the next generation will manage to make movies?” Movies? Yes, I don’t have a doubt. Cinema? I’m not sure. Today, with these new tools  — new camera, new footage, new way of distribution, Internet, VOD etc. — you can tell a story in a different way. Cinema is something else. Cinema is something with a specific language. With the language comes a history, a culture. It’s something to experience on the big screen and this is more and more difficult. We would like to continue to make Cinema — not movies by itself. Movies are just objects of consumption — content for networks — but some movies can become Cinema and then it can become Culture. I mean, to work just with the moving picture, there are different mediums to do it. Cinema is something specific. It’s not pretentious to say it, but there is something beautiful to keep alive.

Vanishing Waves is currently streaming on Fandor and available to purchase on Amazon.

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