I Love You, Goodbye (Laurice Guillen, 2009)
In a film festival that showcases Philippine cinema in its most obnoxiously self-important, with festival films ranging from spectacle-filled pseudo-epics to overacted tearjerkers to undercooked slapsticks, I Love You, Goodbye, despite its own melodramatic excesses, is joyfully quiet, lyrical and close to being authentically moving. It grabs you immediately from the start, when Lizelle (Angelica Panganiban), the poor girlfriend of wealthy doctor Adrian (Gabby Concepcion), enters the house of her boyfriend's family, gets rudely ignored by her boyfriend's mother (Liza Lorena), insulted by her boyfriend's daughter Ysa (Kim Chiu), and overshadowed by her husband's ex-wife (Angel Aquino) who charmss everyone with her seeming perfection compared to Lizelle's enumeration of imperfection. Despite the onslaught of unfortunate eventualities of that night, she still ends up passionately making love with her boyfriend.
The introduction, swiftly and without need of narrative embellishments, summarizes the mess that Lizelle is trapped in. She thrives within a relationship that is solely grounded on a flimsy concept called love. The initial lovemaking scene, shot by Lee Meily in disarming close-up, exposing the uncovered bronzed skin of the lovers in intense embracing and kissing, scored by Von de Guzman who makes use of the saxophone to enhance the steamy mood, and directed with an unabashed sensuality by Guillen, is sinful to look at, not because of the abundance of flesh exposed but because it is simply an act of desperation, an act by lovers struggling amidst a reality that is against their union, a fantasy, although masked by the intoxicating feeling of romance. The plot thickens. Gary (Derek Ramsay), Lizelle's ex-boyfriend, returns, and woos Ysa so that she can get chance to win back Lizelle. Ysa eventually falls in love with Gary who can't reciprocate such adoration because he is still desperately in love with Lizelle.
Lizelle becomes the center of an intricate web of disjointed desires, misplaced adoration, and unavoidable compromise. Panganiban, whose angelic face betrays the seductive curves of her body, is quite a talented actress, gifted with an innate ability to efficiently convert emotions like restrained passion, repressed sadness, and emotional despair into heartfelt gestures, tears, and facial expressions. In one scene, where Lizelle and Gary are left alone in the beach, and allowed for the very first time since their separation to be honest with each other, Guillen aptly does away with music, allowing Panganiban to solely control the scene, puncturing the stillness of everything with a masterful display of whirlwinding emotions, of reminiscence of a lovely past and hope for an unattained future, of an unbearable loneliness and the comfort of a long-awaited release, of the utter confusion of being trapped in the middle of two equally strong loves and the happiness of being essentially exposed to one. It's a beautifully crafted scene, completely unadorned yet brimming with such delicate sadness.
I Love You, Goodbye should have been a good film and it pains me to note that it is not for the simple reason that it flaked in its ending. After meticulously mapping the exposure of a dreamy relationship for the veritable sham that it really is, it quickly abandons such directive and surrenders to the inevitable call of inane conventionalism. I Love You, Goodbye could have been the decade's anti-romance, the momentary cure (at least for the two hours that the audiences would invest on the film) to the Filipino's inherent infatuation for escape through the plasticine happiness of matinee idols and leading ladies entangled in choreographed kisses and embraces. It could have echoed the glossy melancholy of the ending of Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), where two lovers who are deeply in love, after being separated by war, unexpectedly meet-up, armed only with the painful memories of that love they used to share with each other that can never be regained. It could have had the same puncturing bittersweet resolution of James Gray's Two Lovers (2008), where a dreamer of a man wakes up and realizes his dreams of a perfect romance is unattainable, and settles.
But of course, I Love You, Goodbye is a different movie altogether and to expect something else out of it is admittedly an unfair proposition. Yet, the knowledge that the happy ending is merely a product of corporate concession and not of creative impulse, complicated by the fact that the originally intended ending, an ending that is more grounded in reality and logic, has already been shot but eventually shunned by the film's producers for being ambiguously sad, alarms because it pinpoints a national commercial cinema that is obviously taken hostage by formula and what seems to be misguided appreciation of what an audience can and cannot take.
As it turns out, reality, even in something as impertinent as the romantic relationship of fictional characters, is too much of a risk for movie producers with primary capitalist sensibilities. The more lucrative option is to perpetuate the grand cinematic lie; that everything ends happily and all problems and conflicts, no matter how undeniable unresolvable they are, can be magically resolved, and all characters can achieve a state of ecstatic satisfaction and completely forgetful of all the hatred and ill will that have been exchanged between and among them before. Perhaps it is my innate cynicism that drives me to abhor the ending that was imposed upon the film by its cowardly producers. Perhaps perfect endings are actual possibilities or even if they are not, we are in such need of them that we delight in being bombarded by them no matter how misplaced, dangerously false, and illogical they are. However, when a film has a perfect ending just for the sake of having one, betraying all notions of storytelling logic and emotional consistency, it is simply bad filmmaking that is not to be faulted to the director or her cast and crew, who in my opinion have crafted a fine film save for the insulting resolution, but to the profit-oriented movie studio that is being run by a team of unimaginative businesspeople who deplorably treat art not with passion or adoration but with outright bullyism and unfair compromise.