Endo (Jade Castro, 2007)
The film's title is street-speak for "end of contract." It also refers to the final day of work in the normative six months of employment which these exploitative contracts bind lowly employees with, sending them back to that limbo of joblessness after the end of that duration, or starting anew with another like contract in another workplace. The system is a glaring loophole in the Philippines' labor laws, wherein employees are set free before reaching the statute-imposed regularization, saving management the headaches concerning tenure and other employment benefits. It is a loophole that has turned into a norm, both to the exploiting capitalists and the workers that are forcedly dragged into the unfair system.
Writer-director Jade Castro's Endo is a love story set within that world of recycled employment, where romance is as disposable as the jobs these people hold onto. Leo (Jason Abalos) is already used to the grind of part-time employment, with all his friends and girlfriends revolving around the same routine of livelihood. Similarly, His love affairs are as short-lived as his employment stints. Tanya (Ina Feleo) works as a saleslady in a shoe store inside a mall where Leo would start his new work as a sales boy for another boutique. The two inevitably fall in love, considering the convenient distance, the similarities of their situations, that incandescent spark that erupt when they go by. A love triangle then sprouts when Candy (CJ Javarata), Leo's ex-girlfriend from a previous job, begins to rekindle their past relationship. During that instance, the film suddenly acquires a very familiar premise, something we've already seen so many times in so many movies and other kinds literature, only with different scenarios and circumstances.
Thankfully, the familiar yet utterly gorgeous romance is only one facet of the film. Castro generously allows us a more intimate glimpse at Leo's life. Leo's father (Ricky Davao) was left by his wife when he was rendered inutile by an accident. As a result, he then spends most of his time stuck at home while taking care of his fighting cock. Leo's younger brother (Alchris Galura) spends more time lounging at home or going out than studying, as what hardworking Leo who spends for his education only expects from him. His deadened role as breadwinner at home forces him to be satisfied with the hypnotizing groove of temporary employment, quietly happy that he's sustaining his family and planting seeds for a better future by sending his younger brother to school. His only diversion from the lulling staticity of his life are the erstwhile affairs that come and go whenever he moves in and out of his jobs. The joys and pains of falling in and out of love become the potent drugs that make life easier for him.
Endo is beautifully acted. Jason Abalos, clearly matured from the teenybopper fare he has grown up with, plays his role with tenderness and sincerity that is quietly affecting. The biggest revelation in the film is Ina Feleo, daughter of proficient actor Johnny Delgado and director Laurice Guillen. She exudes a charming candor, a naturally blossoming although shielded submissiveness, an unobtrusive vulnerability, that makes you fall in love with her. Her eyes twinkle, not in a way that is manufactured as most teenage actresses have mastered through studio-sponsored acting workshops, but with a gratifying sincerity that is quite rare in local cinema. She speaks in a mannered diction that should feel strange in the social class populated by low-salaried blue-collar workers, yet despite that supposedly glaring inconsistency, she still inhabits the character with enthralling sensitivity.
It's impressive how Castro tells the oft-told tale with much frankness and admirable honesty without further sensationalizing or politicizing the backdrop where the romance is set. The narrative unfolds wonderfully and without surrendering to the old-fashioned tropes that turn love stories into forgettable exercises. Castro was able to enchant me with his brilliantly-written characters thriving and struggling in realistically-drawn situations. Even the characters that come and go through Leo and Tanya's transient relations with their respective jobs are treated with importance as Castro magnanimously grants these characters stories that complement and deepen the central romance like Leo's pal Mark and his suspicious relations with his manager or Tanya's co-worker (Mailes Kanapi) in the hotel whose knack for giving life-affirming advices are clearly learned from her own experiences. Castro was able to paint clear and moving portraits of the people we barely notice, those who have been delegated to the sidelines of this mechanical and utterly commercial world. At least for once, their happiness and aches have been made understandable by fleshing these emotions and aspirations through a medium as universal as love.
This film won Special Jury Prize in the 3rd Cinemalaya Film Festival.