Saturday, May 30, 2009

Agaton & Mindy (2009)

Agaton & Mindy (Peque Gallaga, 2009)

Philippine mainstream cinema is a cinema of convenience. It exists primarily because it is comforting and safe, especially to the audiences it persists to please. Formula dictates predictability, and predictability dictates convenience. Convenience is the single most important element to convince an audience already inconvenienced by corruption and poverty. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the most profitable Filipino films of the last few years are formula-driven romances, escapist comedies and fantasies, and predictable thrillers. Given the day-to-day hardships that the Filipino audience has to go through, there exists an inherent thirst for easy and stress-less entertainment. They do not want the challenge of connecting the dots. They prefer the dots connected, with the image, complete and crystal clear before their eyes. Peque Gallaga's Agaton & Mindy seems to be conceived from this capitalist philosophy.

Agaton (Chase Vega) and Mindy (Louise de los Reyes) are dance partners for an upcoming recital. Their dance routine, entitled Young Lovers, requires intense sensuality from both dancers. However, Agaton and Mindy are worlds apart and the requisite madness their dance teacher (a joyously over-the-top Cherie Gil) instructs them to possess feels farfetched. While attraction exists, the reasons for their being apart seem to outweigh the probability of them falling in love. Agaton, left by his mother with his sister with only a Rolex watch as clue to his identity, is poor and works as a manservant for a wealthy woman. Wealthy Mindy, constantly bothered by her mother's sudden disappearance and her father's perceived infidelity, suffers from constant bouts of madness, where she switches from energetic mania to suicidal depression in a matter of minutes. Keeping true to the spirit of commercial cinema, the two dance partners find common ground, and eventually develop a volatile but well-meaning romance.

Gallaga reverently follows the formula. This proves to be an unwieldy exercise for the maverick director who made Scorpio Nights (1985), a film that explores perversity through a student who starts fantasizing about the security guard's wife from downstairs when he chances upon peeping holes in his apartment's floor, Baby Love (1995), a rebellious romance between two pre-pubescent lovers, and Pinoy/Blonde (2005), an undecipherable romp that misses the mark because of its scattered influences. Agaton & Mindy lacks the exhilarating energy, the humor, the fabricated fantasies that occupy a conventional Filipino romance, whether it is a big-budgeted Cathy Garcia-Molina production or a serialized soap opera. It is predominantly flatfooted, with only a few moments of undeniable beauty and seamless emotional manipulation. The story is as uncertain as Mindy's incessant mood swings, with the palpable passion fluctuating whenever the narrative decides to branch away momentarily. The principal cast, Vega and de los Reyes, do well with their inexperience, considering their roles are reliant dominantly on charm.

In summary, Agaton & Mindy is not as entertaining as it could have been. Thus, it is a good thing that Agaton & Mindy isn't actually a conventional romance, as it initially purports to be. While the film follows the narrative arcs of a conventional romance, it only does so to enunciate the illusion that escapist cinema perpetrates. The highest-earning romances of the past few years have a few things in common: an impossible romance; Cinderella-type side-plots, complications that threaten the impossible romance; and finally, a fantabulous climax that eradicates these complications to allow the happily-ever-after ending. For example, Garcia-Molina's A Very Special Love (2008), a romantic comedy that earned more than a hundred million pesos despite the steady influx of Hollywood blockbusters, has the impossible romance between the scion of an extremely wealthy family and a down-to-earth assistant editor being threatened by the scion's insecurity and many familial worries and the lowly assistant's dwindling patience for her beau's unpredictability. Their romance is eventually salvaged by the scion embarrassing himself in public, just to be rewarded with the assistant editor's much-awaited "I love you." Agaton & Mindy is exactly the same save for its final note.

Agaton professes his love with heroic passion. Conventional cinema has instructed us to believe it, and believe in the power of love. We can almost see the dots connecting, forming the picture of Mindy, free from the clutches of her psychological anguish swooning for Agaton's impassioned dance recital. We can almost see their happily-ever-after ending. However, Gallaga decides to stay on Earth, and abruptly ends the film. To the hopeful romantics, those bamboozled by the barrage of escapist entertainment, it only signals the two lovers' inevitable reunion. To the realists, it changes the entire picture. Agaton & Mindy, by Gallaga's sleight of hand, transforms immediately into a different creature, an indictment of the shallowness of what pleasures us as a nation. For almost the entirety of the film's running time, Gallaga made us believe that the world revolves around the puny romance of two troubled teenagers. He retreats from his prolonged exercise of creating cinematic illusions and starts to tell the truth: there is no magic. Sometimes, we just have to give up and continue to live.


Misha said...

Liked the first paragraph of your review which sets the economic/societal context of formulaic films such as this. Even in early, poor, hardship-driven Soviet Russia-----"Battleship Potemkin" was a domestic flop.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you Misha,

It's quite amazing though that during the seventies and eighties, the melodramas of Brocka and Bernal were making money. I have a gut feeling that audiences today just got lazier, especially with the consistent supply of Hollywood trash.