Anyone in the market for a romantic movie might want to forego Fifty Shades of Grey and look for the Philippines-set (but mostly English-speaking) independent film Waves. Some have likened the movie to Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, a comparison that might hurt it among Malick acolytes and detractors alike; let’s say that Waves has its contemplative side, a healthy appreciation for luscious travelogue shots (most of the story unfolds on an island), and a leisurely pace, but none of Malick’s confounding narration or musings on Nature vs. Grace. It’s simply the story of two friends who become more than that.

Elegantly composed by director/cinematographer Don Gerardo Frasco, Waves sets up a meeting between a man, Ross (Baron Geisler), and a woman, Sofia (Ilona Struzik), who used to know each other back in New York. Sofia is a model now; Ross drinks alone a lot. Sofia needs to get back to New York, and her fiancé, for a modeling gig. Ross suggests she stick around a couple of days. After some thought, Sofia agrees, and before long they are sailing, swimming, and sleeping together on the aforementioned gorgeous island.

As such, the narrative is uncluttered. It focuses on the shifts of emotion between the two new lovers, flipping an old cliché by making the man overly sensitive and the woman noncommittal — Ross wants more than a two-day fling, Sofia doesn’t know what she wants. Geisler, well-known in villainous roles in Filipino movies, and Struzik, an actual model, enact their conflict quietly, without overplaying. They seem like adults, which are in short supply in current mainstream cinema. Again, the drama and occasional comedy of two people dealing with their mutual attraction and its attendant complications are better handled here than in the contemporaneous callow spank-a-thon that is Hollywood’s idea of a Valentine’s Day event.

Occasionally the director indulges a bit much in jump cuts, and some of the shots are static enough that I got distracted trying to work out who was pictured on Ross’s t-shirt. By and large, though, Frasco has a satisfying respect for subtlety. He likes sunsets and underwater footage, but he also knows that the camera’s ultimate subject is what Faulkner called the human heart in conflict with itself. The picture-postcard images complement the romance rather than competing with it or symbolizing it.

Another sign of an adult sensibility in Waves is that it avoids a happy ending, which isn’t the same as saying it has a sad ending. It just has an ending, which seems to point towards events past the end credits. Will Ross and Sofia wind up together forever? Who knows? They don’t. The ending finds the lovers apart, but the movie suggests they’ll reunite, whereas most Hollywood romances end with the lovers together while we doubt they’ll stay that way for long. Do we care about Ross and Sofia’s future? We like them, and we like them together, and that’s just about the best that a movie which isn’t trying to be manipulative can do.

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