‘Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa’ (2015): watching the end of the line

Watching this story of a romance approaching the end of the line is like searching for the right person to love.

Ang sabi mo walang hanggan, pero ‘eto tayo sa dulo.” (You said there would be no end, but here we are standing on the edge.)

If it were not for these words from the film’s original sound track, Walang Hanggan by Quest, it would have been easier to miss the purpose of Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa‘s restless settings. Throughout the film we see the characters in places of motion: sitting in a taxi or on the steps of a bridge, waiting on train platforms, walking between stations. Always in transit, Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa never lets us forget that the characters are in love, but that this love is transient. As much as they would want things to be different, the road will always come to an end, the train will always come to a stop.

The camera in this film has a similar obsession with buildings under construction: hinting at things not quite formed yet, things with perhaps no certainty of completion or fulfillment; without proper labels, like the love between Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Emmanuelle Vera).

We do not need to see the entire film to understand these metaphors for a relationship that has run its due course. They are apparent enough in the music video for Walang Hanggan that uses clips from the movie. Indeed, the resonant, heartbreaking song is responsible for much of the crowds that went to see the indie picture in its commercial release. The social media campaign for the film banked on the song’s hugot or heartbreaking ‘feels’ to draw the sawi, the romantically frustrated. People went to the theaters expecting to be brought to tears, maybe seeking legitimate comfort in a movie, or perhaps simply curious yet prepared for a good cry.

For marketing itself in this way, it is worthwhile to think of the film in explicit contrast to conventional Filipino romance movies.

Note: this review includes spoilers.

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‘Apocalypse Child’ (2015): crash, tumble, subside

A character-driven drama with force, grace and flow, like a wave crashing and receding.

Apocalypse Child is a film filled throughout with short, seemingly filler shots of characters enjoying the famous waves of Baler. These are images of a sunny, slow-mo disposition, the frames filled with luscious visuals of surf and skin. It is beautiful enough that the film is worth watching even if it didn’t have a narrative, as a music video would.

The visual motif of sand and sea is appropriate for a film that has consistently been called a refreshing contribution to Philippine cinema. (Even its playful, almost absurd trailer is wonderfully unique.) Its distinctive flow and flavor washes over its viewers, then withdraws and drains out with the steady rhythm of water. Seeing Apocalypse Child, for any Filipino cinephile, is almost like the experience of seeing a marvelous underwater world for the first time.

(Or so I imagine, I haven’t learned how to swim yet. But it doesn’t matter—lead actor Sid Lucero, who plays the role of a surfing champion, didn’t really know how to surf yet when he acted in the film.)

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Review: ‘Water Lemon’ (2015)

A young man with Asperger’s, his esteemed mother, and other characters populate this contemplative small-town drama.

In Oggs Cruz’s roundup of 2015 Filipino films (Rappler, 12 best Filipino films of 2015), Lemuel Lorca’s Water Lemon does not make it into the top 12, but it receives this passing ‘also worth watching’ citation:

From QCinema International Film Festival, there is Lem Lorca’s Water Lemon, a somber examination of rural boredom…

It is quite a misleading summary. True, Water Lemon is a story about small-town (rural) blues, but it is neither thoroughly somber, nor is it largely about boredom. (Perhaps Cruz found the film a little too slow for his taste, which would be unfortunate.) True, Lemuel Lorca’s latest work has its share of extended shots and slow gazes—but it never comes close to the painful uneventfulness of long shots in such epic works as (for example) Lav Diaz’s Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan. It is seasoned with several lighthearted moments, and succeeds in squeezing genuine laughs out of its audience. Like the small-town characters populating its story, who in their solitude are brooding, but in social gatherings turn lively and humorous, Water Lemon has both contemplative and hilarious moments.

The rural community that Water Lemon explores is the coastal community of Mauban, on the coast of the province of Quezon. This is director Lorca’s hometown. The location is so prominently billed in this film that we are led to think of its characters, primarily, as inhabitants of this coastal town, and only secondarily do we explore their individual differences. But the film does not disappoint, because the variety and relationships of its characters, in fact, is its greatest beauty.

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‘Sleepless’ (2015): a pleasant non-romance about urban insomnia

Sleepless only pretends to be a romantic film; in truth, it is a story about brokenness and healing, set against the charm of the city at night.

The call center industry, well-known for employing its workers in graveyard shifts, and which is ironically called one of the nation’s sunrise industries, lends Philippine cities a unique claim to the title of the city that never sleeps. While contenders for the nickname in other continents are havens of endless leisure and nightlife and luxury, Manila (or Cebu or Bacolod) are inhabited by night dwellers who forgo sleep not out of choice, but out of necessity.

Many of them, that is, but not all. Sleepless, an entry to the 2015 QCinema (Quezon City) Film Festival, is ambivalent about the call center industry. It is tempting for a film with such a premise to be an echo chamber of critical sociopolitical sentiments: that this outsourcing industry disadvantages our nation in a neo-imperialist world order, that it enslaves its workers under alienating working conditions, et cetera, et cetera. But for Sleepless, the graveyard shift, the darkness of ungodly hours, is just a backdrop to its story, the circumstances that its characters happen to inhabit.

Note: this essay is an in-depth commentary on the film, and includes spoilers by necessity. It is meant for those who have seen the film.

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‘Honor Thy Father’ (2015): a gripping, grounded crime drama

Strong acting, a metaphorical setting, and resonating themes bring this John Lloyd Cruz-starrer to excellence.

Honor Thy Father begins with a shot of the protagonist Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz) breaking the ground in a lawn in the Cordilleran highland city of Baguio. It is foreshadowing, both in a visual sense as Edgar later in the story breaks into a different territory with his brothers, and on a metaphorical level, as he would in the course of the story break and shake up his relationships, with people and with the land.

The setting maintains a strong, and beautiful, presence throughout the film. Baguio subtly comes to represent both the hopes of his family, and the instability and chaos they find themselves facing. Edgar’s wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), at one point talks about going to the mountains to escape their problems (a genius bit of characterizing detail, because for most Filipinos who live in lowlands, Baguio is a mountain city, and only highland urban residents would talk of going further up the mountains). Edgar does travel to still-higher and remoter lands of the Cordilleras, where he seeks his parents and brothers for help; his brothers, meanwhile, make a living as miners, blasting their way deeper into the mountains in search of minerals. In Honor Thy Father, the rolling urban terrain is a symbol of conflict; the dusty mine lands, of refuge and strength.

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