‘What Home Feels Like’: finding unhappiness in the good life

With admirable restraint, the film shows that the Filipino Dream is not enough for happiness.

The first version of the Filipino Dream is indistinguishable from the American Dream, because many Filipinos would not think twice of any opportunity to migrate to a wealthy land of opportunities, or indeed any land where the government is known to care for its residents. The version of the Filipino dream for those who do stay is nevertheless an imitation of the American Dream, in its materialistic vision of middle-class comfort: a house, a car, and children with college degrees. Ironically, the common means for achieving this dream is, still, migration—overseas work, where the father or mother, or both, sails abroad for a living, sacrificing the chance to watch their children grow up, to share in their troubles, to attend their graduation ceremonies. Such is the Filipino diaspora.

What Home Feels Like, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival, is a patient portrayal of precisely what its title suggests. The question that follows is, what kind of home is it? It lets us know in the very first scene. Antonio (Bembol Roco), a seaman, is calling home to his family in the Philippines, telling his son Julius (Rex Lantano) mundane details of his work onboard a ship. When he asks about Alison (Bianca Libinting), Julius rushes out to fetch his twin sister, leaving the phone receiver open. Antonio continues to speak on the line: frustrated, he says he is running out of credits, and eventually the connection is cut. The camera holds still for a quiet minute or so. From what little we see on the frame, a well-adorned piece of furniture, we can guess that they have a beautiful, middle-class house, built through the labors of a distant father—who finds it difficult to communicate with the very family he built the house for.

Warning: this review discusses plot.

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Three films from Cinemalayà 2013

I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.

The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013, with chandeliers and the word ‘cinemalayà’ in colored lights
The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013

Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.

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