Camiling Story (Erwin Romulo, 2005)
The first thing we see in Erwin Romulo's directorial debut is space. Stars rapidly passing by; as if from the point of view of an intergalactic traveler. Camiling Story however does not involve space travel or aliens; neither does it tackle the historically rich town of Camiling. Space travel and science fiction are mere tools for Romulo to enunciate his very familiar tale of boy-meets-girl. Camiling is a mere setting for this syrupy clumsy romance between Manila-bred geek Earl (Diego Mapa) and provincial town lass Elsie (Sonjia Calit).
The science fiction book Earl keeps himself busy with transforms into a parallel story that lets the romance glide from being uncomfortably too personal to palatably cinematic. Elsie's first sighting of Earl alighting from his bus is appropriated with a feeling of first contact; Each and every encounter between the two young lovebirds is accompanied by an evocation of geek-dom (a particularly bad karaoke rendering of a favorite song morphs into an otherworldly harmony when Earl glances on a parading Elsie pass by). Romulo's sound design plays a vital role in his stylistic romance. Amazingly, it's almost pitch-perfect the way the sci-fi aural trappings, the musical compositions, the scene-specific sound effects, the towering voice-overs merge to develop the exact emotions Romulo wanted to exude.
Everything is shown in quaint and gorgeous whispers. Elsie's flirtatious ways are downed with acceptable ease; especially when compared to her sister's more vivacious and scandalous machinations. She tours the newcomer to her native town's sights (the ruins of an old church, the house of Jose Rizal's sweetheart: all reminders of something lost). Elsie's room however is where everything happens. It's lovely how Earl uncomfortably searches the room (the book she reads, the starry ceiling) for something remotely similar between the two them. It's even lovelier how Romulo sets the romancing game between the inexperienced geek and the curious girl. The turmoil that follows tenderly punctures the heart because of how well-acquainted and well-prepared Romulo insists us to be.
There's more to Camiling Story above the extrinsic effect the sci-fi/coming of age merge inflicted. It quietly evokes memories of first loves and encounters; pleasantly appropriating geographic locations not from factual or historically important conclusions but by personal experience (the same way Luneta might be important to a person as the place where he received his first kiss, instead of being the place where national patriot Rizal was shot to death). It's innate sincerity delivers a calming blow; Earl's familiar experiences blossoms into a resonating ode to the string of firsts every boy would have to experience. I was more than mildly impressed by Romulo's openness and sensitivity; there's truly something huge to expect from the young artist.