Friday, November 29, 2013

Woman of the Ruins (2013)

Keith Sicat's Woman of the Ruins: A Marriage in Ruins

In the middle of all the post-apocalyptic madness of Keith Sicat’s Woman of the Ruins is a story so painfully familiar. When a woman (Alessandra de Rossi) washes ashore in an island ruined by wars and storms, Pasyon (Art Acuna), one of the island’s resilient survivors, immediately claims her as his long-lost wife Maria. The woman, bereft of any memories from the past, hesitantly assumes the role. Her hesitation irks Pasyon, urging him to hold her captive, for him to easily claim from her marital obligations owed to him. Most of the island’s residents just ignore the atrocities, seemingly content with the religious implications of Maria’s dubious return.

Sicat claims Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (Miracle, 1982) as an unconscious inspiration for his film. However, Bernal’s masterpiece is not as consciously crazed as Woman of the Ruins If there is one classic that resembles most the moods, themes and rhythms of Sicat’s allegory, it is Elwood Perez’s Silip (Daughters of Eve, 1985), the screenplay of which was also written by Himala’s writer, Ricardo Lee. Perez’s film features a parochial community, not unlike the one that lives in Sicat’s desolate ruins, that is overwhelmed with religious fervor. The arrival of a woman breaks the calm, testing collective morality amidst dogmatic dedication.

Lee served as Sicat’s creative consultant for Woman of the Ruins. Sicat however has more to say about religion than the hypocrisy that it naturally germinates, which seems to be the unifying theme of Lee’s screenplays for Himala and Silip. Where Bernal and Perez’s masterpieces pertain to communities that expose darkened hearts amidst spiritual convictions, Sicat’s film depicts a community strangled by communal norms.

In the spotlight of Sicat’s interests is Pasyon and Maria’s marriage, which essentially is just fiction arising from the community’s persevering beliefs. Immediately depicted by Sicat as grossly imperfect, the film’s central marriage persists not out of love but of pressure and necessity.

Rape and torture then become logical after-effects of a forced relationship. Forgiveness is forthcoming, given societal and religious pressures. The sins, however, are never erased. They gnaw on whatever remains of the marital union until nothing is left, except a stark desperation to escape despite the limitations society provides.

In a way, despite its obviously foreign landscapes, Woman of the Ruins reflects present-day society, where religion has a grab hold of the very concept of marriage and gender roles remain steadfast despite modernity.

In one scene, Sol (Peque Gallaga), who serves as the community’s wizened leader who keeps an almost perverse eye on the affairs of everyone, urges Sabel (Chanel Latorre) to become a mother. The exchange leads to her and Maria’s rape by unknown perpetrators, a sequence visually reminiscent of Silip’s devastating conclusion. The horrid crime eventually leads to her and Maria getting pregnant, in fulfilment of the role she should have readily accepted as reality instead of an option.

Sicat effectively captures a society crumbling not from natural or man-made disasters but from persisting norms and religion. The film’s landscape is bleak, one where reminders of an unforgotten desolation tower over empty fields and derelict forests. The ruins are themselves populated by shadows, men and women whose lives were salvaged but whose souls are permanently tainted. They desperately cling to religion, perhaps out of guilt for sins that gave way to their apocalypse. Woman of the Ruins visually captures suffocation.

In a twist laden with arresting irony, the film ends with its married couple drowning, physically suffocating. Gone are the ruins, its denizens and their pressures. There is no one else but them, enveloped by the sea and its unfamiliar sights. Dying, Pasyon and Maria embrace each other. Love exists, in another world, far and away from the society that seeks to cage it.

(First published in Rappler.)

Kabisera (2013)

Kabisera (Borgy Torre, 2013)

The bookends of Borgy Torre’s Kabisera are presented with such disarmingly romantic flair that they immediately stand out from the gritty reality that consumes most of the film. Andres (Joel Torre) sits in the head of the table, while the rest of his family are eating dinner. In both the opening and the ending, Andres is all smiles, delighted in seeing his family intact and sharing a meal together. The stark difference lies with Andres’ family, all of whom exchange their immaculate smiles in the film’s opening with the tears and gestures of resignation in the ending. Only Andres is left in a state of joy, obviously oblivious of tragedy.

Kabisera opens with a dream. It ends with a nightmare. Everything in between is a modern parable of skewed ambitions compromising traditional virtues. Torre has crafted a modern Faustian tale. The devil here is ambition, the dream that Andres wakes from in the start of the film. He realizes that dream, but at the price of his own humanity.

A humble fisherman who has contented himself to playing second fiddle to Jose (Art Acuna), his wealthy best friend, Andres is nonetheless the overly protective head of his family, controlling everything from his son’s college education to his daughter’s upcoming wedding. One morning, he finds two boxes of meth floating in the sea, opening for him an opportunity to keep his family within his watchful reach.

What happens next is nothing new in Philippine cinema, which has somewhat fetishized stories about virtuous men and women falling from grace. It comes natural in a country where class boundaries are vague, and the difference between being rich or poor is a single decision that compromises values. Torre aptly situates Andres’ dilemma within such a familiar circumstance. When Andres and his wife (Bing Pimentel) pursue the crooked path to easy riches, Torre affords no explanation, no intense characterization with a belief that their motivations are clearly spelled out by their dire straits. Morality simply takes the backseat in matters involving one’s family’s survival.

The tragedy of Kabisera is therefore not the loss of morality of Andres. He starts out as a man of ambition, dreaming only of good things for his family. Torre, both Borgy and Joel, portray him as a man with vague morals, grounded primarily by two things, his concern for his family and his loyalty to Jose. The tragedy therefore lies in the loss of Andres’ most utmost virtues. When pushed by criminal elements that he has not prepared himself for, he abandons friendship and unduly warps his position in the family.

Kabisera is inconsistently paced. Torre is gifted with creating tension out of quietude, as in Bonsai (2009), his short film about an obese man who is desperately in love with his neighbor, and prolonged conversations, as in Despedida (2010), his short film about a man and a woman who meet in a graveyard. Kabisera however feels like it lacks a certain balance, relishing in protracted moments of silence, or heated verbal exchanges between characters, before being distracted by rhythmic montages or listless sequences. It certainly drags in the middle, painstakingly addressing the process of Andres’ painful transformation via his dealings with drug dealers and corrupt cops, climaxing in the fruition of all his aggravating trespasses that is but inevitable.

Joel Torre carries the film through its lows. It is not only intensity that he brings to the role, but also a certain complexity. Andres is simply not just a stern or stubborn father or an ambitious criminal upstart, he is also a man torn between decades of accepted humility and an immediate future of being the boss. Torre inhabits Andres acknowledging that the transformation of the character is best revealed through subtle changes in gestures and behavior. Pimentel similarly inhabits the role of Andres’ wife with such surprising grace that only adds further layers to a role that could have been slight if portrayed by a less sensible actress.

Kabisera may be an imperfect film but it succeeds in dissecting the transformation of a fisherman who barters his soul with the devil for the sake not of his family but of his role in his family. Torre’s film, although deliberately bound by genre conventions, is delightfully complex. Laced with details, from the performances to Torre’s own directorial choices, the effects of its disturbing portraiture of Filipino patriarchy linger longer than the initial pleasures it immediately produces.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli (2013)

Arnel Mardoquio's Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli: A Profound Purgatory

Arnel Mardoquio’s Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli (Riddles of My Homecoming) opens with an explanation of a Lumad belief that all souls of the departed return home to serve as guardians of the homeland. After the prologue, Mardoquio wastes no time in setting up his puzzle. Images burst and blur, giving way not to the typical logic of a story but to moods and landscapes of pain and sorrow. The film never lets go of its own confusion, enduring as an abstract mosaic of an island’s profound agony.

The souls are linked by melancholy. They aimlessly wander, probably in recurrence of something they had to do out of necessity in their previous lives. They are consumed by love, then lust, then by prejudice, by greed, and power. They are less the guardians that the Lumad belief promised and more prisoners sentenced to an eternity of sin. Their sins are not to each other, but to the land itself.

This is Mardoquio’s purgatory. It is an abstract portrait that weaves absolute beauty with pandemonium and strife. After all, his Mindanao has already gained such a reputation of being pristine despite its crisis. Its virgin forests hide rebels and soldiers engaged in decades-old battles. Its rich mountains conceal the mines that enslave them. Its rivers flow with the waste of an exploitative industry. Its people’s smiles mask a history written with suffering caused by class and faith.

Mardoquio has persistently told stories about his island’s plight. From Hunghong sa Yuta (Earth’s Whisper, 2008) to Ang Paglalakbay ng Mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (The Journey of Stars Into the Dark Night, 2012), he has been consistent in humanizing the conflicts that consume his homeland, introducing characters whose desperations are intertwined with the land’s suffering. However, the souls in Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli are as broken and fractured as the limbo they roam. Mardoquio communicates not through words or slogans, but through images.

Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli is more than a film. It is a poem. It is performance art. Some scenes even ache with the same profundity of a painting. Its elegant rhythms belie its beautiful confusion. Mardoquio himself seems to be consumed by the riddle that is his homeland. His film has the feel of a spiritual experience, a purging of guilt and sorrow by an observer who has only his art as weapon. There is pain in the film’s silence, and prayer in its score’s repetitious drone.

Death is the only thing that is certain. It unites us all, from the powerful cult leader whose feculence is manna from heaven to the baylan who has been forgotten. Mardoquio understand its power. He acknowledges its beauty. Ang Tigmo sa Aking Pagpauli appears to be his ode to it, thoroughly sincere and stirring as it comes from a heart who has observed far too many in his homeland needlessly succumbing to it.

(First published in Rappler.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Islands (2013)

Islands (Whammy Alcazaren, 2013)

The easiest thing to do is to either stop at faulting or praising Whammy Alcazaren’s ambition in mounting Islands, a deeply personal meditation on the complexities of loving. The film is hardly about the director’s ambition. It is more about his humility in communicating how imperfect he is as a person in love. The film, despite its visual elegance, has the affecting awkwardness of a juvenile poem. Like a poem, it is replete with obvious metaphors, from the solitary spacemen to the despondent hunter, that pertain to one nagging idea: the inability to communicate love.

Its stanzas are all beautifully composed. They are fragile sequences, all carefully designed to evoke a somber mood. In a forest, a hunter longs for the love of a princess he can never have. In space, two astronauts suffer the most profound of loneliness despite each other’s company. In a quiet house, a widow suffers through infrequent visits of her migrating daughter and grandson.

The three storylines, separated by time and space, are linked through signals and gestures. The grandson plays with a toy spaceship while his elders talk about the weight of quietness. He becomes the sole witness of two individuals bursting with love for each other but unable to declare it. An astronaut sings a familiar pop song out of a memory of his past, which is curiously our present. It breaks the languor of the film. It also makes the spaceman human, suddenly turning the last life in the universe into one of us.

The astronaut hurts himself just to remember emotions. The hunter hurts others to evoke emotions. He sees a dinosaur caught in his trap, and proceeds to kill it, before succumbing again to pains of alienation. The hunter’s princess weeps for him. Garbed in a wedding gown, she laments to the sea that took her lover away from her. The astronaut, newly landed on her planet, consoles her.

The episodes’ connections are at once apparent and ephemeral. They work like figures of speech, adding layers to verses. At the moment where the connection becomes real, when the spaceman finally bridges to another lonely soul, Alcazaren breaks his deceit, revealing the fiction that masks his truth. The director of the film within the film, intriguingly played by Peque Gallaga, releases words that have been aching to be released. That an entire cosmos was created to add eloquence to the simplest of words reveals Alcazaren’s impulse as a filmmaker.

Love is never uncomplicated. It should never be. Islands veils love’s complications with such immaculate beauty. It is not only about the carefully crafted imagery that the film indulges in. It is not about the poems within the poem. It is not about the film within the film, whose eventual reveal exposes, in cinematic real-time, the awkwardness of loving from the distance and absence of words. It is definitely not about its distinct parts, which essentially are all disparate gestures and mysterious codes that obscure the need of verbalizing love.

Islands is about the inability to express directly what is felt. It is about the empty spaces, the wasted eras, the torturous silence that all result from needlessly caged emotions. It is about the boy and the girl talking about everything except love when love is everything they want to talk about.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bendor (2013)

Ralston Jover's Bendor: Life as Prison

It all seems routine. Over coffee, Blondie (Vivian Velez) animatedly recounts how she caught her husband cheating. Her story is amusing, how her husband’s philandering eventually caught up with him when he ended up flirting with their own goddaughter who grew up to work as a bargirl. Her story is aborted by sounds of wailing. There is actually more to Blondie than her domestic squabbles. In another room, a woman who she assisted to have an abortion is quickly losing blood, and is screaming for help. She brings her to the hospital and leaves her there. Luck was on her side, as she was able to escape before the hospital could figure out the abortion.

At home, everything still seems routine. Blondie prepares for work, plucking the white hairs that reveal her age. She helps her granddaughter dress up for school. Her son greets her with a request for money to pay his own utilities bills. A few minutes later, her daughter starts to pontificate about how she should just forgive her husband so that things can go back to normal. She storms out of their apartment, only to be met by her drunken husband who violently pleads for forgiveness, and eventually suffers a severe heart attack. This time, routine is on her side, as she was able to escape that morning’s drama because she has to work.

Blondie detours and visits her optometrist and beautician, delaying the inevitability of old age. She then proceeds to her stalls in Quiapo Church, where she catches her vendors slacking. She then mans her own stall, selling various colored candles to women depending on their needs. Goods are sold and money is exchanged, all outside the centuries-old cathedral that feigns ignorance of all sorts of commerce. Her daughter suddenly arrives, begging for money to pay for her husband’s hospitalization. Blondie gives her daughter her day’s entire earnings, promising to look for more money to complete the payment. The money she gave is not enough. Her daughter begs for her to visit the hospital. She cannot escape for long.

In Bendor, Ralston Jover painstakingly plots the life of a woman who has been wasted to routine. As portrayed by Velez, Blondie seems to be a woman who has seen better years. She desperately clings on remnants of her fleeting youth, while also attempting to raise a family that is tittering on dysfunction. All her efforts are funded by illicit dealings with abortionists and corrupt cops. Jover offers no moral judgments. The illegal trade Blondie plies is as ordinary and routinary as her morning shouting matches with her husband.

However, the life she leads is one where risks are part and parcel of survival. There seems to be far too many close calls. She only manages to avoid them when mysterious visions of another Blondie suddenly appear, almost mocking her of the freedom she lacks. When her salvation is nothing more than hallucinations of a life that could have been, it becomes apparent that she has imprisoned herself in a life whose dire ordinariness is but symptomatic of a more profound plight. She is just one amongst many other women circling the surroundings of Quiapo’s grand cathedral and bound by fate to either buying with both money and soul another opportunity at life and freedom or being content with the damning routine of domesticity and servitude.

Jover ends the film with blunt irony. Blondie and Quiapo’s many vendors are finally set free from prison after several hours. Upon release, she is greeted with news that her husband has been released by the hospital. Her daughters merrily exit the police station. Blondie decides to stay, behind bars. She looks on, motionless, with eyes heavy with tears. That morning’s freedom, as it turns out, is nothing more than a one-way ticket back to her life’s persisting prison.

(First published in Rappler.)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Lilet (1971)

Gerardo de Leon's Lilet: Patriarchy as Nightmare

They know her. She doesn’t know them. Lilet (Celia Rodriguez) enters her family’s mansion with dread and suspicion. Each object is a trap. Each face is a mystery. A victim of severe amnesia, her only linkage to an obscured past is fear. Her mother (Paraluman) welcomes her with grave hesitation. Her grandmother (Tita Munoz), a striking woman despite her being constrained within a wheelchair, and her father (Vic Silayan), meet her with evident dismay. After a short reintroduction that evokes anonymity rather than delight, she is dismissed.

That night, she becomes a woman on the verge of insanity. She hears a familiar voice repeatedly calling out her name. A mysterious machine chugs, adding to the cacophony that seem to force demons out of her enclosed memories. A masked man with a pair of scissors suddenly appears to haunt her. She is unsafe in her own home. Screaming, she sprints away from the mansion, before a car nearly runs her over. Out of the car is her knight in shining armor, Edgar (Ronaldo Valdez), her doctor and savior from all the horrors that seem to debilitate her.

Gerardo de Leon’s Lilet is repetitive in the way it portrays its titular character as a woman on the edge, desperately clinging on the remaining shreds of lucidity while everything around her pushes her to insanity. De Leon, a medical doctor prior to becoming a director, shows a very astute understanding of mental suffering. While he exploits Rodriguez’s peculiar features when in the state of shock to visualize shock, he nevertheless utilizes logic in injecting fear into his disturbed protagonist.

The film, surprisingly produced by businessman-turned-evangelizer Mike Velarde, is astoundingly vivid in its depiction of mental torture. Set mostly within the mansion that takes the form of a cage gilded by expensive but overwhelming trappings, the film is greatly reliant on De Leon’s ability to visualize terror. He maps Lilet’s descent to madness with clarity, creating ominousness out of ordinary everyday things and noises.

Beneath Lilet’s gothic surface however is something more disturbing. Lilet is after all a film about women who despite familial ties are all too willing to inflict mental torture on fellow women all in the name of love. The love that is the center of the film’s depravity is in fact even more depraved. De Leon paints the incest that happens so often within the mansion with a certain flair that makes it even more terrifying than the triggers that force Lilet to hysterics. Subtle gestures grow into devastating revelations, exposing a very rotten core that may not be endemic to Lilet’s melodramatic family.

Although Silayan’s father figure is pathetic, the bare fact that he is the sole man in the mansion forces all the women in the household to fight for his attention. His mother lusts for him. His wife begs for his forgiveness. His daughter struggles for his attention. Every other man is competition, whether it is his son or the doctor who sways Lilet’s attention from him. Patriarchy is the original sin here. The rest are just projections of a horrifically skewed perception of a societal wrong. With Lilet, De Leon has woven a nightmare straight out of reality.

(First published in Rappler.)

Blue Bustamante (2013)

Blue Bustamante (Miko Livelo, 2013)

It is inevitable for the Philippines, a country whose economy thrives because of the inward remittances of its overseas workers, to develop a film culture that revolves specifically around the experiences of those expatriated breadwinners and the families they left behind. It is perhaps the penchant for Filipinos for melodrama that eventually shaped the unique genre into what it is now: an enduring portrait of marginalized sector that has become most famous for its selfless sacrifices. From Joel Lamangan’s The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), a dramatization of the life and death of a domestic helper in Singapore, to Hannah Espia’s Transit (2013), about a family in Israel being threatened of deportation, overseas Filipino workers are consistently depicted in a state of physical, emotional or mental anguish.

Blue Bustamante, Miko Livelo’s awkward entry to the depressing genre, is therefore a very welcome breath of fresh air. George (Joem Bascon), Livelo’s Japan-bound family man, is not exempt from the trials that usually befall overseas workers. Early on, he is booted from his job as an engineer, and forced to don a mask and a tight body suit to play Blue Force in an ongoing sentai show, just to be able to provide his family back home with comforts. He also becomes a victim of homesickness, relying on the threat-laden letters of his loving wife (Dimples Romana) for company. Despite the very familiar issues, the film never allows itself to wallow in regret and remorse. Instead, it bursts with ingenious energy, reminiscent of the low-budget Japanese television shows it offers itself as a tribute for.

It is thoroughly and enjoyably simple. In fact, its conflict is blatantly trite. Simply put, George is embarrassed of his job, not knowing that his son (Jhiz Deocareza) for whom he sacrifices what remaining dignity he has left for is his character’s number one fan. Livelo pads the plot with unsophisticated charm. Humor is abundant, and wit, overflowing. The conversations between George and his glib roommate (Jun Sabayton) are funnily pointless, stretched indefinitely until its perfectly timed punchline.

Livelo surprisingly understands the purpose of his film’s comedy. It is its levity. It is its sincerest effort to prevent itself from taking itself seriously and turning into just another of those films that turn modern-day heroes into hapless victims of circumstance. Absent its irreverence, Blue Bustamante is nothing more than a rough-on-the-edges attempt to one-up sentai, which it is obviously not. The blatant imperfections are essential to its charm. Like the kids whose crayon-colored cardboard masks are their greatest tributes to their favorite after-school pastime, Livelo crafts the film to be his grandest compliment to nostalgia.

That is precisely why the film works, despite the obviousness of its low-budget roots, or its inconsistent plotting, or its stubbornness in its straightforward sentimentality. It never complicates the emotions it is trying to pull off. The plentiful sketches and lovely anecdotes on the sentai shows of the past decade are all effective diversions from its immediate heart, which is the father-son relationship that was sadly suspended by distance and lack of communication. When Livelo suddenly strays from his antics and diversions to concentrate on his film’s emotional core, it is just impossible not to get affected.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? (2013)

Jose Javier Reyes' Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap?: The Colors of Forgotten Dreams

Jose Javier Reyes, for all his faults as a director, has earned his renown for one singular artistic characteristic, which is his ability to enshroud his works with a distinctly middle-class perspective. His astute interest in the clear lines that divide Philippine society into various socio-economic classes are often depicted through satire, as in Mga Mumunting Lihim (2012), where the friendship of four middle class women is abruptly tested by deceit, envy and various fleeting plights, or in Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo (2006) and its sequel Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo (2007), where the concerns of the marital life of a middle class couple are mined for comedy.

His best romances are the ones draped with class issues. May Minamahal (1993) has affluent Aga Muhlach falling in love for Aiko Melendres, the lowly daughter of a jeepney driver. Instead of depicting the cross-social class love story with fairy tale allure, Reyes injects realistic observations as to the very apparent lines that have been punctured because of the two lovers’ affectations. Kung Ako na Lang Sana (2003), on the other hand, tells the atypical love story of Aga Muhlach’s financially stable playboy and Sharon Cuneta’s hardworking entrepreneur, documenting along the way the worries and problems of a privileged generation.

Whenever Reyes decides to tackle the issues of the impoverished, such as in Live Show (2000), which is about men and women forced into performing live sex shows for survival, the perspective is evidently middle class, with depictions of oppression and struggle shrouded with pity, regret, shame and seriousness that only a repentant member of the ruling class can offer. Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? (What are the Colors of Forgotten Dreams?), which narrates the life of a Teresa (Rustica Carpio), a domestic helper who has spent most of her life serving several generations of a middle class family, is possibly the most persuasive of Reyes’ expression of middle class guilt.

Domestic servants have become a necessity for most middle class households, who find both parents becoming breadwinners to maintain a lifestyle. The servants, instead of being regarded as typical employees, become part of the household, taking on tasks from simple cleaning to raising children in the absence of their parents.

Unfortunately, their very vague position within the family unit deprives them of certain securities. Emotional attachments become too irresistible. Monetary compensation becomes a non-issue. In the end, however, when economic circumstances are weighed alongside de facto relationships, the former takes precedence, resulting into an oppressive tradition that we can only quietly acquiesce. It is perhaps our undeniable familiarity with this oppression that makes Reyes’ film genuinely affecting.

Reyes complicates this depiction of middle class oppression by situating his tale during the twilight of Teresa’s career, when she has become close to being useless to the family she serves. The family’s remaining members, Stella (Jackie Lou Blanco), Vince (Bobby Andrews), and Andre (Ryan Agoncillo), have all migrated outside the Philippines, leaving the family mansion for sale. Amidst negotiations with brokers and buyers, they become confronted with something they have glaringly omitted: what happens to Teresa?

Reyes depicts the siblings unequally. Stella and Vince seem intent on moving on, regarding Teresa’s situation a mere diversion from the goal of disposing all of their family’s assets in the Philippines. Andrew, however, has more benevolence in his affairs with Teresa. Despite that, Reyes approaches the moral dilemma in his narrative with logic and reason. He ensures that no inherent antagonists arise, and instead, all acts and inactions are mere results of a situation that all characters find themselves trapped in.

Melodrama is Reyes’ weapon of choice. Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? is effectively manipulative. Flashbacks are utilized to indulge in key scenes that enunciate Teresa’s sacrifice for and investment in the family. From Carpio’s resplendent performance to the howling musical score, the film immediately urges pity for the aging woman whose illusions of being part of the family she has served is about to shatter. Pity, after all, is but a by-product of guilt. It is most sincere when there is an acceptance of a wrongdoing. When it is sincere, it prods for compassion. Reyes, true to his mission of exposing either the excesses or the shrouded inhumanity of his class, aims to use his film to move for compassion.

Thus, subtlety is not an option. The film ends with Teresa, alone and on the verge of confusion, looking into the camera and at the audience. She probes for pity and for compassion. At the very least, she probes for guilt from the social class who can afford to watch her life’s sufferings but cannot afford her the humanity she deserves.

(First published in Rappler.)

Friday, November 01, 2013

She's the One (2013)

Mae Cruz's She's the One: Just One of Too Many

It’s all been done before. Jolina Magdangal, in fact, has made a very lucrative career in the 90’s by playing exaggeratedly chirpy women who harbor secret longings for unassuming best friends, usually played by erstwhile onscreen partner Marvin Agustin.

Then there is Rory B. Quintos’ Mangarap Ka (1995) had Claudine Barretto and Mark Anthony Fernandez play best friends-turned-lovers in a story set amidst competitions and ambitions that only the University of the Philippines can offer. More recent is Ruel S. Bayani’s Paano na Kaya? (2010), based on a hit song that sums up the dilemmas of being consumed by hidden affections for a best friend, where Kim Chiu quietly suffers while Gerald Andersson falls desperately out of his valued relationships. Perhaps the most impressive of the lot is Jose Javier Reyes’ Kung Ako na Lang Sana (2003), where Aga Muhlach and Sharon Cuneta play best friends who only discover they were meant for each other after living through their lives, too busy with careers or failed love stories to acknowledge the fact that they like and love each other.

There is simply something about romances blossoming out of mere friendship that is so attractive to Filipinos. It is perhaps because these love stories represent the most realistic of escapist romances, since there are no requirements of fated romantics facing glaring odds that their truest love will have to withstand. It only requires what most of us might already have: a best friend who we may have fancied as our one true love.

Thus, any expectation for innovation from Mae Cruz’s She’s the One can only lead to disappointment. It briefly delights only because it tells a story that is all too familiar and all too comforting. The film does not have any ambitions of reinventing the wheel. In fact, it is stubbornly precise in following its formula. This stubbornness, relieved only by a few attempts at placing the tired love story into the present day world that is dominated by social media, can only lead to a film with very meager charms, reliant mostly on whatever charisma its leads can muster out of playing boilerplate characters.

Cat (Bea Alonzo) has always loved Wacky (Dingdong Dantes). However, because she knows Wacky is too busy playing playboy with his many women, he relegates herself as his best friend. Little does she know, Wacky actually also has feelings for her. When David (Enrique Gil), a college student who happens to capture a video of Cat changing the tires of her car in the rain, starts expressing his inexplicable love for Cat through social media, things start to fall in place. The three become entangled in a romance that can only be set right by Cat and Wacky admitting the feelings for each other that they have hidden for so long.

Cruz does attempt to excite with only details that allow the story to stray a bit from its all-too-familiar path. Along the way, Cruz details the difficulties of maintaining a relationship that is gapped by a very wide age difference. Also, she situates the love story in a world proliferated by shallow expressions via the ease and convenience of communicating through social media, she touches the surface of how impulsive, and perhaps trivial, relationships, romantic or otherwise, have become.

Predictability, however, is still a given in these kinds of romances. Despite the attempts to color their fictional world, Cat and Wacky will end up together, leaving David, surprisingly selfless all of a sudden, giving up for the sake of a clean resolution. Absent any realistic struggle for love, the film’s easy resolution seems a tad too insincere and manufactures. It seems to be more a result of the impulsive feelings this generation represents than real yearning. Given that, Cat and Wacky may actually deserve the very hollow happy ending they get: cold and drenched in beautiful but fake rain.

(First published in Rappler.)