May morning meditation

It’s nine in the morning on a Saturday. I look out the window, and from this room high up over the city, I can discern the geometry of the neighborhood. The streets in this district are laid out in a pattern slightly more elaborate than the basic grid, and in addition to the usual rectangular blocks of houses and buildings, there are also triangular lots and five-way crossroads.

From my vantage point, I can see people walking, small like ants, going down slowly along the streets and avenues named after dead people about whom most still-alive people don’t know anything about. I watch them for a few moments, and then I get impatient at their glacial pace. I get bored, and I get distracted. My attention shifts, involuntarily, to another shape moving down on another street. It’s moving with more speed, and its outline is a little larger—it’s a person mounted on a kind of vehicle. It gets closer and I see that the vehicle is a bicycle.

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‘Isa Pa, With Feelings’: from speechless to breathless

A love story, pure and simple, full of feelings as advertised.

“Out of sight, out of mind”, the saying goes. People tend not to think about, or at least be aware of, things that are not visible. But visibility is not enough—the saying should really come with a complementary proverb: out of hearing, out of meaning.

At the heart of Isa Pa, With Feelings, the new, humble film by Prime Cruz, is this message: that things out of our sight and out of our mind, things we take for granted such as the sense of hearing, create invisible worlds that bind people together, but that can also separate and isolate them. And because these are invisible worlds, they are not usually on our minds, we usually do not notice them—until we start truly paying attention, not just with our eyes but also with our ears. Because to understand people, for them to mean something, it is not enough to see them—we also have to hear them.

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‘Body Crashes’ and the freedom to self-express: an interview with Rhian Ramos

“For a long time I’ve been very ashamed of my feelings… It takes a different set of guts to put [out] something that you’ve written.”

Body Crashes has a rather intriguing title. Aside from the grammatical ambiguity (is ‘crashes’ a plural noun or an intransitive verb?), there is a striking sensuality to it, a feeling conveyed by the song’s cover art, with its stark image and suggestive smoke. Overall the work exudes a personality and bleeds an aesthetic sense, one that feels true to the personality and identity of the celebrity whose work it is—Rhian Ramos.

The single cover art for ‘Body Crashes’ by Rhian Ramos, featuring a monochrome portrait of her face in a suggestive, sensual pose, with smoke coming out of her mouth.

I refer to her as a celebrity, because she is self-aware enough that people see her first as an artista in the Filipino sense of the word, and only second as an authentic artist, an actress or musician in the exalted sense of those labels. Onstage during the launch gig for Body Crashes’s music video, she admits to the crowd that it is “baduy” when an artista wants to be a singer. “Someone had to say it, so I just decided to say it,” she later says, laughing. She clearly had in mind those dismissive types who would think it overreaching for a popular actress to try her hand at music-making.

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‘Quezon’s Game’: playing it safe

History is important despite its unfortunate repetitiveness. The way it is retold should be more inventive.

Films are one solution to the problem of tedious history lessons. This medium of sights and sounds, combined with the factual liberties afforded to dramatizations of historical events, makes the past real, turns staid accounts and lifeless facts into visceral sensations—and refashions the study of history from a mechanical transfer of data into a transformative human experience with emotional gravity. That is the idea, at least.

First there is the complication of films as vehicles for history lessons, lessons being quite a controversial concept in the context of art. Filmmakers are storytellers first and foremost, but in the process of making historical movies, they involuntarily have to take on some of the difficult functions of preaching and teaching. The very act of selecting a subject, and choosing which details about that subject is presented, is a statement bound to generate dissatisfaction one way or another. The filmmaker may choose to present history in a straightforward, agreeable manner, and then be accused of naivety. She might also choose to deconstruct history, to subject the past to critical scrutiny, revealing heroes to be not so heroic, revolutions not so revolutionary—and then be accused of being unpatriotic, of blasphemy. Tasked with telling a story from the past rather than from imagination, the filmmaker cannot then proceed with her work without implicitly staking a position between these two extremes.

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‘Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon’: a world of their own

Five years later, Sam and Isa find themselves pulled back into each other’s worlds.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa was the study of a relationship coming to its end, and had its characters in constant motion, through trains and taxis and the corridors of a college, echoing the transient, restless nature of their romance. The theme and motif evolves in the sequel, Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon: Nestor Abrogena, the man behind both films, shares that in making the sequel, to convey its visual philosophy, he came up with three keywords—flight, orbit, and gravity. But these concepts do not merely manifest in the cinematography; they also enrich the essence of a film that could easily have been just another heartstring-puller.

(Tey Clamor, the director of photography, executes the vision well, exemplified in such shots as of Emmanuelle Vera where the camera hangs at an oblique angle, seemingly floating away from her, but also inducing a sense of vertigo. Also, whereas Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa had cold colors, Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon is rendered in rich, worldly tones.)

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