Huling Pasada (Paul Sta. Ana and Alvin Yapan, 2008)
English Title: Final Stop
The decision to set Huling Pasada (Final Stop) in Katipunan Avenue and its surrounding environs is possibly out of practicality and economy. After all, directors Paul Sta. Ana and Alvin Yapan are by day, professors in nearby Ateneo de Manila University. Thus, they squeeze out from their and their actors and staff's schedules whatever shooting time they can. The area isn't anything special. While the district is characterized by a row of colleges, universities, and student dormitories, it, like most other districts in metropolitan Manila, is a myriad of residences of both the rich and the poor, huge commercial complexes and small shops, and unsubtle indications of poverty.
Huling Pasada, whether intended or unintended, transforms the otherwise typical Katipunan area into an unfamiliar place. The film's characters are too involved in their respective real-life nightmares that the absurdity leaks into the surroundings, tinging the skies with bleak purple and the streets with jaundiced glean. Thus, the setting is colored with otherworldly hues, producing a particularly incalescent feel, a tinge of inward madness. Much of the atmosphere is due to cinematographer Dan Villegas' topnotch work, shooting from unusual locations, from very low angles in the streetside, making visible what happens below the motor vehicle's chassis, capturing the pavement and whatever limited movement from there; or from behind the glass window of a laundry shop or from across the counter, giving a sense of us spying on private conversations.
The story, written by Sta. Ana, focuses on Ruby (Agot Isidro), a novelist who along with her lone daughter, is struggling from a recent divorce. She writes about Mario (Neil Ryan Sese), a cab driver who is fervently trying to win over an ex-girlfriend (Dimples Romana), who recently returned home from abroad, and on the way, altruistically takes care of orphaned street vendor Jed (John Manalo). The plot teases on the possibility of a connection between Ruby's real life and Mario's supposed fictional life, whether on a purely psychological level or as a narrative and thematic deceit. I was definitely in it for the ride, since Sta. Ana and Yapan masterfully weave the two storylines with masterful ease, playing with ambiguous threads of direction, never hinting of a probable outcome.
At certain points of the movie, especially when the plot has become characterized by pulpy excesses, and the characters have fully realized their archetypal roles, I was immediately reminded of David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001), where atmosphere overtakes narrative logic in importance. I was even more engrossed. Huling Pasada is turning out to be either a film with an authentic literary feel of a Filipino novel etched in film, or better yet, a film set in what feels like the Filipino version of Lynchian suburbia, where taxi drivers with stalker tendencies, mothers with a psychotic love-hate appreciation of taxis, and other unlikely characters dissonantly intertwine in the roads where roadkill are given special attention.
I vastly enjoyed the mystery. I adored the vagueness in the storytelling. However, Sta. Ana and Yapan ends the film by overtly pointing at a definite connection between the storylines of Mario and Ruby, completely abandoning the thematic implications of fiction being affected by real life and vice versa, betraying the delectable ambiguity, the Lynchian attitude, for a conclusion that attempts at humanism for its mostly desperate characters but is really more of a disappointing contrivance.