‘Oda sa Wala’: the morbid fragrance of emptiness

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

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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‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’: delirious with desire

A mesmerizing ode to finding beauty in a dreary city.

Poets, fictionists, and all kinds of storytellers have a fixation for the city, or at least the idea of the city as a place. They pour a lot of thought into fleshing out this concept, to shape this imaginary community for their characters and purposes. Perhaps they find it wonderful how chaotic crowds of people find a measure of order when they walk down the same streets, just as seemingly disparate elements of stories seek structure to form a narrative. Perhaps they appreciate the density of districts, which radiate the sense that there is always a story to be found just around the corner, down the alleys, inside the buildings. There is always a lingering desire to find exciting things buried behind the dull details of life.

Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus is a captivating expression of this urge. The film, a love letter to Manila’s Avenida, weaves smoothly through the streets and spaces of the district as it tells the stories of four men linked together only by their common admiration for a woman named Aileen, who is played by Iana Bernardez in a stunning debut. She is introduced in the glorious opening scene, walking in slow-motion on the streets, to the music of Ikaw Pa Rin, a song one could easily imagine blaring from those karaoke units peddled at Raon.

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