Maling Akala (Pablo Biglangawa & Veronica Velasco, 2007)
English Title: Mistaken Assumption
A man tries to balance himself in the middle of a rickety wooden bridge. He does the same inside a boat. He also loses grip of a glass which falls and breaks into several shards. An abandoned hut sits in the middle of a picturesquely constructed frame, and on the window sill of the hut is a bowl uncomfortably maintaining its balance against the humping movements of the hut's occupants. Pablo Biglangawa and Veronica Velasco's Maling Akala (Mistaken Assumption) has an almost obsessive interest on balance, whether it be on a bridge, a boat, a window sill, or the camera's frame. It somehow matches the film's inherent theme of the discomfort in living in the middle when one is assured that he sways further on the side, as what JP (a frustratingly flat Victor Basa, ) tries but fails to do in the movie (which is also the theme of Biglangawa and Veronica Velasco's first feature film Inang Yaya (Mother Nanny, 2006), where Maricel Soriano's character struggles to maintain a balance between being a loving mother to her lone daughter and affectionate nanny to her ward).
Like JP, Maling Akala is a film that continuously morphs. It starts out with a chance encounter between the two lead characters, JP and Teta (Jodi Santamaria), aboard a passenger bus to the province. JP, we are hinted by the recurring hazy flashbacks and the little details that Biglangawa and Velasco provide like the tiny blood stain in his branded shirt, his shady get-up that somewhat provides anonymity, and his aversion for the police, is on the run while Teta, as obviously evidenced by the rotundness of her belly, is on the brink of labor. While in the rest stop, Teta goes into labor and caught in an unexpected scenario, JP lends a hand by bringing her to the hospital and paying for her hospital bills. The doctor and the hospital staff mistakenly refer to JP as Teta's husband, and the two adopt the erroneous belief, introducing themselves as a married couple to Teta's parents (for different reasons: JP, to acquire a suitable hiding place in the parents' provincial house; and Teta, to give her childbirth a semblance of propriety in the eyes of her parents, which would later on evolve into a desire to turn the temporary ruse into reality).
It's the prime set-up for a timeless love story, at least in the eyes of Teta and the rest of us who, like her, still believe that love makes the world go round. The fortuitousness of their meeting, the gentleness and non-obligatory kindness of JP, and the seeming perfectness of it all would cloud any hopeless romantic's senses of what is real and not, what is possible and not. On the other hand, the set-up can also be perceived as the beginnings of a crime thriller, a daring mystery, a Filipino noir. In JP's mind, the present world revolves around the crime he has committed and is seeking absolution from to the point that his connivance with Teta becomes nothing more than a procedure for him to buy more time from justice, any attribution of emotion is utterly impossible.
Sadly, the film seems to be less deliberate and subtle than I would have wanted (Biglangawa and Velasco have a tendency for trite sentimentality, and mawkish visual and musical cues, as with Inang Yaya; that is something they probably learned while working in advertising, where every second paid by a client for must be loaded with emotions and information, thus the tendency to overexpand gestures and abandon subtlety). The film would often indulge in prolonged moments of solitary bliss (as when JP first wakes up in the provincial house, enjoying the surrounding, his body frame one with the beautiful surroundings, enough to be understood as commercial for tourism), cheesy dialogue, and a visual style that is not well-suited for the type of film they are intending to make. I prefer more somber visuals (like the ones Tsai Ming-liang or Apichatpong Weerasethakul use in their thinking-men's comedies), indicative of an unapparent yet slowly surfacing humorous core instead of Maling Akala's candy-colored commercial hues and overly-scenic framing, that pay too much attention to itself.
What Biglangawa and Velasco try to achieve in Maling Akala is a risky feat, contemplating the differing motivations of the two characters within the movie without necessarily harmonizing them. The film is not a romantic thriller, or any other mixed genre critics love throwing around. Maling Akala is essentially a comedy of errors that transforms, if necessary, into romance or mystery, but never both at the same time. It seems that the film is structured in a way that would allude to the main conflict of JP: a person cannot have two jarring personalities, two different roles, have two conflicting attractions at the same time.