And I Love You So (Laurenti Dyogi, 2009)
It is interesting how the subject of grief of losing a loved one is explored in recent local cinema. Since Mark Meily's Crying Ladies (2003), grief has been tackled with much humor (there is Gil Portes' Mourning Girls (2006) and Soxie Topacio's Ded na si Lolo (Grandpa is Dead, 2009)), primarily concentrating on the absurdity of the customs and procedures related to grieving, with the ridiculousness of the ceremonies overtaking the subject of grief itself. More maverick filmmakers would tackle grief, concentrating on its paralytic effects on the person suffering. There is Lav Diaz who, in Melancholia (2008), explores the extent a wife would undergo (transforming into a prostitute in a faraway resort town) to cure herself of the consuming melancholy of losing her husband, not knowing whether he is dead or alive. And I Love You So director Laurenti Dyogi, and his team of writers and producers, would not go as far as Diaz’s outrageous proposal. First of all, Melancholia primarily uses grief to humanize its loftier ambitions, from the political, to the moral, to the philosophical. And I Love You So, the attempt of Star Cinema, one of the Philippines' few active mainstream film studios, to tackle grief or its audience-friendly fantastical impression of it, takes such anguish as a mere conflict in its overly familiar plot to challenge two would-be lovers from realizing a romance already predestined by formula.
And I Love You So centers on Lara (Bea Alonzo), a pre-school teacher whose perfect husband Oliver (Derek Ramsey) dies after only a few months of marital bliss. Dyogi, schmaltz-conjurer par excellence, accompanies Oliver's tragic death (which conveniently happens on Lara's birthday, while the two are dancing under a perfectly starry night sky and in a beach that is ornamented by a birthday cake made out of sand and candles) with swelling dramatic music and frenetic cuts to slow-motioned footage of Oliver falling on his sand castle and Lara crying and screaming on the top of her lungs for help. Thereafter, Lara spends her days and nights in concealed misery, that is until she meets Chris (Sam Milby), a club DJ who also has his own marital problems but nevertheless, falls in love with Lara. Problems arise: a new relationship, after only a few months since Oliver's death, for Lara seems inappropriate; Chris, on the other hand, is sick and tired of falling for women who can't entirely fall in love with him (after having a wife who cheated on him with her ex-boyfriend), and it is quite obvious that Lara is still deeply in love with her dead husband, enough to conjure him from thin air for advices and comfort.
Of course, the inevitable fate of Chris and Lara is to be together in perpetual bliss that we can assuredly conjure after their long-awaited kiss gives way to the film's end credits. Knowing that, the middle part, which consists mostly of the two lovebirds flirting with, and fawning for, and later on, fighting with each other, is negligible, just a tool to enunciate the fantasy that Star Cinema has been perpetuating with their non-stop onslaught of hugely commercial romances: that love trumps everything, whether it be class difference (Cathy Garcia-Molina's A Very Special Love (2008) and You Changed My Life (2009)), environmental advocacy (Jose Javier Reyes' When Love Begins (2008)), the American Dream (Garcia-Molina's You Are the One (2006)), a highly careless and promiscuous past (Joyce Bernal's For the First Time (2008)), obesity (Jade Castro's My Big Love (2008)), racial stereotyping (Reyes' Can This Be Love (2005)), familial meddling (Lino Cayetano's I've Fallen For You (2007)), and with And I Love You So, devastating grief.
The previous litany of conflicts and the corresponding Star Cinema movie that makes use of the conflict does not only expose the studio's lack of ingenuity in determining titles for its romantic films (most of which adopt song titles or famous verses from famous songs as their title), but also the creative void, the inability to take risks, and the unforgivable laziness that undoubtedly infest the studio's filmmaking process. The retort is predictable: filmmaking is a business and the movie going public pays to be elated and entertained, not to feel more depressed or reminded of the problems that hound their lives outside the theater. I agree to a certain degree. If anything, the fact that the films that these mainstream film studios produce earn profits, despite the fact that reliance to formula has overtaken any form of creative freedom from any of the artists involved in the production and has turned these movies into mere clones, is telling of the moribund state of this contemporary culture, where what is popular is entertainment that draws its audience farthest from reality.
It is therefore not surprising that the greatest accolade a Filipino artist would ever dream of is now being bestowed upon Carlo J. Caparas, a hack who made himself filthy rich from peddling the misfortunes of others in the most sensationalist yet artistically inept way possible. During the time when Caparas' movies were drawing people to the theaters, Filipinos were clamoring for movies that depict misfortune worse than theirs (not even the poorest living Filipino would want to trade places with the numerous massacre victims that also became victims of Caparas' talentless movie-making). That is exactly my problem with Caparas' reasoning that his ability to communicate with the masses makes him a worthy National Artist. While his films may have communicated very well with most Filipinos, it only does so because it speaks to their misfortune of being too poor to be authentically happy of their lot. Caparas' films, like the formulaic films that Star Cinema has been producing for the sake of profit, exploit the country's malaise, and it behooves me why anyone would even consider Caparas, or any maker of movies who thrive with such parasitic mentality whether consciously or not, an artist.
Forgive my digression. Now, let me give this review of And I Love You So its proper conclusion. The film's cinematography, musical score, editing, acting, scripting, and direction are all wondrously orchestrated to momentarily transport you to an fantasy universe where good husbands die young, divorces are easy, renting out your condo can land you a platonic relationship, lack of parking skills can turn that platonic relationship into a romantic one, and running around Cubao barefooted will win you a second chance at a happily ever after, without even the threat of having your feet covered with soot. For that and the plenty of times Star Cinema has made us forget our problems for the price of a movie ticket, let's give the studio its National Artist Award. Oh wait, studios, being juridical persons, are not eligible to be awarded. What the heck, I'm sure President Arroyo can do something about that too.