Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Possible Lovers (2008)

Possible Lovers (Raya Martin, 2008)

Raya Martin’s Possible Lovers, a ninety five minute film introduced by five minutes of silent vignettes of Manila in 1919 segueing to around ninety minutes of a ridiculously long take of a man watching another man sitting on a couch and ending with a self-referential stab at itself, could be anything. The title suggests a romance. The screen suggests a one-sided romance, from the gazer (JK Anicoche) and the subject of his gaze (Abner Delina), a sleeping man wearing a coat and a top hat. The man’s gaze towards the sleeping man, considering that nothing could attract such long a gaze except what could be the beauty of a face or the possible intrigue of what is happening within the sleep, is an act of selfless adoration. Nothing else happens. They remain only possible lovers within the scope of Martin’s film, a film that is far too short to appreciate beyond the possibility of that possible love.

“They made movies in 1919,” states the intertitles that separate the vignettes of old Manila from the extended shot of the two men. The clips are deteriorated, made overtly imperfect by the decay of the film source over time and the effects of digitalization. Hardly the movie that the intertitles speak of, the clips are but phantoms of an existence or the possibility of the existence of such movies. Given that what’s left is a mere reminder of what was or what could have been a cinematic past, the cinephilic adoration morphs into what essentially is a fetishistic attachment for the dead or the near-dead. Is the man wearing a top-hat really a man but a ghost of the unobtainable past? Is the gaze really a romantic gaze of affection or a suffering gaze of patience, longing, regret and psychotic expectancy for specter wearing the top hat to wake up from what seems to be an eternal slumber?

Teresa Barrozo’s sound design accompanies the near-static image with the promise of movement and action. Sounds of horses galloping, of motor vehicles on the move, of men making passage through grass, create an atmosphere of unrest that is discordant with the steady visual. Are these the sounds from the movie that the audience supposed to be watching? Are these the sounds from the movie that the man is watching?

“We were two possible lovers, waiting for the film to end,” concludes the film. At first glance and probably at second, third, and fourth to viewers who cannot get over the fact that they were just watching a man watching another man, the coda seems to play like the punch-line to the film’s overextended practical joke. However, the coda succinctly summarizes the subtle anguish that Martin bares in the film. It is anguish attributable to an unfulfilled need, like a love affair infinitely stalled because of the utter impossibility of the receiver to reciprocate a fervent love being offered. As the man with the undying gaze is in the middle of a possible love affair, the audience is also stuck staring on a possible cinema, only to be reminded by the abrupt coda that there is actually no end, no conclusion. We all remain waiting, possible lovers of that possible film.

For Martin, love and cinema, both of which are for him indisputably personal as all of his films, where both are interchangeable themes, can attest to, are perpetually connected. Possible Lovers, within the span of ninety five minutes, majority of which is spent in teaching the audience the art of the expectant gaze, articulates a pain common to both those who are hopelessly romantic and those hopelessly in love with cinema.


Anonymous said...

sounds ridiculous.
pretentious even.
could be a coverup for the absence of plot or story.

Anonymous said...

warhol did it in the 60s. i'd say it's lazy film-making and where is the audience you're talking about?

edgar p said...

The emperor has no clothes, Mr. Oggs. O baka naman kelangan talagang mag-interpret ng malalim para kunwari'y hindi nasayang ang oras sa isang juvenile cinematic exercise?

Art nga naman talaga. Minsa'y kelangang humugot sa wala para masabing meron.

ness roque said...

i treated it as poetry. pakiramdam ko nagbasa ako ng mahabang tula, o isang nobelang berso, na walang nangyayari. pero pagdating sa dulo, sa huling pangungusap, naisip kong buti na lang tinapos ko dahil saka pa lang luminaw (o lumiwanag kung hindi man naging tunay na malinaw), saka pa lang naging masarap.

ito na ang pinakaself conscious moment ko bilang manonood/mambabasa. tingin ko, higit sa lahat, isang karanasan ang panonood nito.

hindi ko matiyak kung paano mahuhusgahan ng hindi nakapanood kung hindi sila nakapaloob sa karanasan ng pelikula.

Oggs Cruz said...

...and that is really the beauty of a cinema that is not imprisoned by common cinematic conventions of telling a story, it forces the viewers to think, to make sense of what he's seeing. You can call it making something out of nothing, but isn't the motion picture conceived from the creation of an illusion of movement from stills projected 24 frames per second?

edgar p said...

Sa bagay, kung meron ngang ganito nuong 1960's...ba't hindi pwede 50 years later?

Nawa'y may naidulot na napakatinding epiphanic chorva ang pelikula ni Mr. Martin sa buhay niyo, Mr. Oggs.

Maghihintay ako ng pelikula ni Mr. Martin na nakatapat lang sa dingding ang camera ng dalawang oras para mahanapan natin ng earth-shattering revelations.

"And I am a wall waiting for the audience to applaud."

Ay sorry. "Audien" lang pala...singular.

macky said...

edgar p, why so snide?

Anonymous said...

Andy Warhol with pretensions.

Epoy said...

After watching this, me and Mr. Adrian Mendizabal, though he missed the screening, talked about this film and other Raya Martin's works, and we both agree that when it comes to experimental film-making, Martin has been one of the most successful ones in the Philippines.

At first I thought it was pretentious, but I've noticed some progressions as the minutes pass by. I should say that this film still falls under Martin's favorite themes: Philippine History, which was present both in visual and the sound.

Anonymous said...

pretentious, period.

Oggs Cruz said...

anonymous, period.

Epoy said...

these anonymous are really afraid of being read but they post anyway. haha

Anonymous said...

you streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch a scene for ninety minutes?

again: pretentious, period!!

Anonymous said...

judging by the review(as i have not seen it nor would i want to after reading this), the main point of the film could be about how history is often romanticized. it is always imagined as a place where much ideal than the current. which is pretty short sighted to me... but aint it always like that? when old pictures of manila circulate thru emails, people are always bitching that manila was much better and looked like it was not..."manila".

but 95 mins of cinematic discourse where nothing ever happens is a third world luxury should only be shown on confortable screening rooms of the 'artful' the economically priviledge, where it should belong until it would be ultimately forgotten.


Anne CB said...

"hindi ko matiyak kung paano mahuhusgahan ng hindi nakapanood kung hindi sila nakapaloob sa karanasan ng pelikula."

In the case of movies like this (which I have seen, by the way), the attempted exegeses of the concept are the point, rather than the experience of actually watching the movies, which function as glorified Rorschach inkblots, so one doesn't have to watch the movie, just read the director's notes and the reviews. They're meant to cause film critics like Sir Oggs to twist themselves into pretzels trying to prove they got it, and thereby implicate them(selves) in the production process, bestowing upon them(selves) the role of co-author.

In this case, "forc[ing] viewers to think" really means "causing viewers to be creative" which, while an admirable aim, can be (and is) used as a crutch by artists who can't, or won't, articulate themselves using only their supposed medium. It's glorious reciprocal nonreproductive stimulation that validates artists by granting them importance and critics by allowing them to participate in art-making. So in this case, as in many others, there really is no need to watch the movie, which is beside the point. Win-win for them. For the rest of us? Not so much.

I don't accept the idea that people have to be "forced to think," as though people could stop thinking while conscious. I'm suspicious of reviewers praising certain movies for making them think, because it really implies that thinking isn't something that they normally and automatically do.

Sir Oggs, I love the way your mind approaches films, but when you stretch like this, my love is tested so severely that I'm not sure I can recover.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you Juan and Anne,

Yesterday in a coffee shop, while waiting for a friend to arrive, I read a New York Times article explaining why humans think some animals are ugly. The examples given were the star-nosed mole (whose entire face seems to be covered by this reddish fleshy matter) and the blobfish (which is mostly the face of what looks like a sad old man and a little bit of body). Basically the article's thesis is that humans perceive ugliness in animals if it first connects with its features and then finds something twisted or abominated in the perceived human features. It's a valid point. I saw myself laughing at the logic and wisdom of the thesis and entertained me while waiting.

Back to the topic. True, 95 minutes of nothing happening seems to be a third-world luxury reserved to venues like Fully Booked and private screening rooms. I do not dispute that point. Nor do I dispute the point that we do not need to taught how to think while watching a film. We actively do. Thus, we get immediate reactions like "kilig," fear, laughter, etc. while watching a film or following a plot. Possible Lovers "forces" people think because at an elementary film-watching level, it is illogical and senseless, outside the box seemingly for the sake of it. "Forced" to think because one cannot simply imagine that a filmmaker will do something as whimsically pointless a film, it becomes something else: a probable statement for viewers who feel for film archiving, an anguished reflection for hopeless romantics, a document on film viewing for philosophers. Is there anything wrong with contributing to the act of filmmaking? I hope not, because it is what justifies film as a method of discourse and what makes film viewing something more than a pastime.

Finally, it is true that one can not watch a film and still feel something for it. Actually, all films can be judged that way. Read the synopsis and you will immediately feel something for or against it. It's the same with art. The Mona Lisa is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci where a beautiful woman is semi-smiling in the background of an Italian township. Same with animals. The star-nosed mole is a fuzzy creature that seems like its face is covered by a red, fleshy star-shaped nose. Same with film. Titanic is a love story between Jack, a poor boy, and Rose, an engaged rich woman, that is terminated by the tragedy of the sinking of Titanic. Immediately, just by reading the synopses or descriptions, you will be able to judge the work. But you'll only be able to honestly say something about the film once you've sat through it or seen it. Whether or not sitting through a torturous film will change your mind doesn't matter. At least, the fact that your initial biases have been reinforced by the act of doing rather than blindly criticizing makes the commentaries more valid. You are only being forced to think if you can initially escape from the mindset that you are wasting your time.

Epoy said...

Sir Oggs, panalo yung last comment. hehe.

I really think that the reactions received from the audience is a sign that this film is a success and the fact that there are different reactions on the film and it is being talked about from time to time is a sign of the film maker winning over his critics.

I always loved Raya's works, Possible Lovers might not be the most lovable, but still, it is lovable.

Adrian Mendizabal said...

"he examples given were the star-nosed mole (whose entire face seems to be covered by this reddish fleshy matter) and the blobfish (which is mostly the face of what looks like a sad old man and a little bit of body). Basically the article's thesis is that humans perceive ugliness in animals if it first connects with its features and then finds something twisted or abominated in the perceived human features."

Basically, its anthropomorphism - the projection of the 'human-ness' to non-human subjects. it is highly used in animation, painting and filmmaking.

There are, i think, many levels of reaction in any work of art depending on its level of difficulty:

[from easiest 'reaction' to the hardest]

(1) Sensory Reaction (physiology-wise, the action of the senses)

(2) Identification (relating the experience with past events, thoughts and projections)

(3) Evaluation of existing value systems (based on past 'art experiences' including morals, principles, ideologies, biases and the like)

(4) Judgment (laying out of the summary of the above levels 1, 2 and 3)

(5)Analysis (a reevaluation of LEVEL 4 through a systematic elucidation of its aesthetics, both style (and narrative) and form of the art in question)

(6) Historical Evaluation (subjecting the analysis in relation to the history of the medium)

(7) Philosophical Evaluation (the hardest level, applies other existing philosophies exclusive or non-exclusive of art per se, from critical theories of Deleuze, Foucault, and Lacan to the constructive epistemology of jean piaget)

As active viewers (i presume all readers of oggs' blogs are sane, intelligent and active viewers) we must be aware that we all deal with such levels of 'reaction' when encountering a film common or uncommon as it is. most of us do stop at LEVEL 4 because of the lack of knowledge of the higher levels. From LEVEL 5 upwards, the difficulty lies in the pre-existing knowledge the viewer has. Of course, people who haven't studied or learned film aesthetics cannot go to level 5.

Sadly some people who can attain level 5 do jumped back to level 4 unannounced: is it a sign of cowardice? Defeat? Laziness?

just a thought.


@EPOY!: thanks for the mention! haha! katuwa!