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.