‘Oda sa Wala’: the morbid fragrance of emptiness

An unsettling portrait of death—of the body, and more so of the spirit.

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Death is an appalling thing. Between the moment of demise and the white nothingness of bones, a corpse suffers a disgusting process of decay, giving off foul odors as it becomes more and more disfigured and discolored. Perhaps it is as a distraction from this reality that funerals have always been accompanied by flowers, which—more than being hopeful symbols of rebirth—are a fragrant and beautiful counterpoint to the hideous transformation of death. It is an ironic distraction, however, because ornamental flowers are also dead things, presently radiant but also doomed to decompose, as even embalmed corpses are.

Oda sa Wala (‘Ode to Nothing’) begins with a familiar Chinese tune playing over an image of a lone white light bulb, attended by a small swarm of flies. As with writer-director Dwein Baltazar’s previous film, Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus, this opening combination of image and music is an iconic expression of the film’s themes. (Oda’s opening shot is mirrored in the final scene, like in Hypothalamus, but in a metaphorical way: the light bulb replaced with the moon, the flies with something more troubling.) The Chinese song is Mò Lì Huā, meaning jasmine flower, and like the subject of that song this film is awash with whiteness: an ode to nothing rendered in the color both of purity and of emptiness, an absolute lightness that is as much the color of death as black is.

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‘Lando at Bugoy’ (2016): simple, sincere, satisfying

Lando at Bugoy lives and breathes its beautiful setting; a restrained tone is its own statement.

Film, being the medium uniquely capable of presenting grand, immersive spectacles, often tempt its makers to tackle topics of epic scope. As they do, their works often fall short of greatness, only proving that an expression of too much can produce something so empty. Sometimes the subject may be ordinary families, yet they expand the story to encompass a fuller range of life and experiences; these types are often more successful, but then there are films like Lando at Bugoy, where the filmmaker deliberately understates, deciding to weave a narrative around a limited, focused idea and setting.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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Cinemalayà 2015 Shorts B

Five short films by young directors make up the second set of competition pieces in this year’s Cinemalaya festival.

Lisyun qng Geografia (Geography Lessons)

Writer and director: Petersen Vargas

In Lisyun, Tib finds an old map as he sweeps his belongings into travel boxes, in preparation for some unmentioned journey. The handcrafted map, however, distracts from his future plans and sends him to a detour, an intimate journey to his past. This is how the viewer is introduced to the centerpiece of the film: a beautiful parallel between the geography of the outside world and the terrains of personal relationships.

Tib’s map is not a mass-printed, scientifically-accurate guide but a personal record of the landmarks of his younger years. With the quaint sheet on-hand, he retraces memories of his hometown in Pampanga: afternoons spent on a dirt road, evenings outside his old home, a twilight at a secluded corner of his high school. It is not difficult to imagine the crushing nostalgia that Tib experiences as he revisits the physical triggers of his memories. After all, memory is intertwined with location; and Lisyun shows us that identity is a function of geography.

Crucially, Tib’s map is also filled with pictures of himself and his high school best friend, Tric. We learn through flashbacks that the map was made by Tric, and the night when he gave it was the turning point of their tragic relationship. Their friendship used to be innocent, joyful, and comfortable—but it developed into a tense attraction that left them both groping uncharted territories of their personalities. Tib’s eventual reaction was denial, and rejection; and Tric, confusion and desperation.

The flashbacks end here, and we imagine how the relationship fell into neglect after that passionate confrontation at night, and in the intervening years as Tib left for university. In the present, the map leads Tib through town, and he finds some structures gone, constructions sites replacing the familiar landmarks. Places are dynamic: no matter how intimately we may come to know places at some point in our lives, they will inevitably change, sometimes subtly, sometimes violently. And they will become both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, like an old face, or a faded relationship.

In the end, when Tib comes into the place that witnessed some of his old friendship’s happiest memories, he runs into Tric, who by appearance alone is now a changed person. After a long silence, they simply acknowledge each other’s names—and a new, unexplored path of redemption opens up. Somehow, we know that areas of Tib and Tric’s map will have to be redrawn, with brighter colors.

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