Faces of Love (Eddie Romero, 2007)
Eddie Romero, like his mentor Gerry de Leon, is more famous internationally for the low budget genre pictures he made for American producers rather than his homegrown films. Largely unseen outside the Philippines are his more serious works, which are regarded in his native land as classics, with his Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (This was How We Were, What Happens to You Now, 1976) landing in many Filipino critics' lists of the most important Filipino films of all time. It has been a little less than two decades since his last feature (imdb lists an action B-movie Whiteforce released in 1988 as his last film), and even more for his last Filipino film (Hari sa Hari, Lahi sa Lahi (King and Emperor, 1987)).
In 2006, Romero finally finished Faces of Love, his first digital feature. The film finally gets a commercial release, with most critics and cinephiles excitedly gushing over the come-back. However, absent the irrational effects of nostalgia and reverence for the 82 year old National Artist for film, the film is rather lightweight and quite disappointing. Romero's cross-over to digital filmmaking opens the feature to a number of technical quirks: Romero's filmmaking style makes use of static shots, the only movement is the frequent zooms in to his character's faces --- the digital zooms make the movements both distracting and discomforting.
Romero explores the ails and joys of rediscovering romance with Faces of Love. Widower Arcadio (Christopher de Leon) hires Toby (Alfred Vargas) to investigate a series of romantic letters that he received during the years. With the help of Skip (Juliana Palermo), Toby traces the letters down to Arcadio's former nurse and lover Ligaya (Angel Aquino), who is in trouble with the police chief (Bembol Roco) for rebellion-related crimes. The characters are entangled in a not-so-intricate web of romantic love, with the only seeming solution for entanglement is for these characters to just let go and confront the emotions.
The dialogue is driven by refreshing wit and charm. Co-written by Romero with Rica Arevalo, the screenplay evokes the romantic cynicism in most of Woody Allen's earlier scripts, with a troubling absence of Allen's neurotic humor and an irreverent spark. Moreover, there's an obvious disconnect between Romero's actors and the smartly-written script, driving away much of the emotional impact of the lines --- it is quite an unlively misunderstanding as it seems Romero goes for subtlety and freshness while the telenovela-fed thespians are overacting as if they were in a melodramatic event flick. Mon Confiado, who plays Skip's homosexual pal, seems to appreciate the script for what it is --- fancifully delivering his lines with an unmindful flow. On the opposite end is Vargas who seems to relish his lines and scenes too much as if the screenplay and the film were gospel truth.
It's a problematic film. Romero strives for lightness but with his artistic stature in the country, the film is burdened with ambition and expectations. One can only hope that Romero get used and finally adapt his methods to digital filmmaking, as this little film feels more like a transition, an excerise, an experimentation rather than an inspired work.