‘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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‘Umaapaw’ by Ang Bandang Shirley: singular feel, many possibilities

This music-video is Shirley at their heartstring-plucking best, visualized with sublime storytelling.

Awit, masaya ang mga tenga
Sa aking alaala ito nagsimula

In life, as with music, there is movement and then there is stillness. There is sound and then there is silence. When the action becomes too much, we leave the town looking for solitude.

We all have our own places where we turn to for comfort in loneliness. Sometimes it is an old, empty parking lot, at the fringes of the city, close to the forest and free for tired souls to inhabit. You would come there for solace, but what happens when someone else comes wandering into the space you would rather have all to yourself?

Panaginip ang dumalaw

You may choose to keep to yourself, retreat into your thoughts; or you may be enchanted by this other soul. You see her lost in smoke and clouds of thought, and you hear questions in your mind, prodding you to explore, to find out what it is that you share with her that drives both of you to seclusion. You may choose silence; or you may take a deep breath, and open a connection, offer a distant but firm handshake.

A man and a woman share a handshake in the Ang Bandang Shirley music video for Umaapaw, under handwritten lyrics, “Panaginip ang dumalaw.”
Screen capture from the Umaapaw music video, youtube.com/watch?v=9pXZCO3A_8w

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‘Malaya’ by Kitchie Nadal and The Stone Forest Ensemble

Kitchie Nadal blends sorrow and hope in this powerful ode to emancipation.

One could take a cursory listen to Malaya (meaning ‘free’) and quickly conclude that it is a song about a break-up. It is easy to see why; Kitchie Nadal reserves the most solemn section of the song for the following lines:

Malaya ka na sa aking piling
Magmahal nang walang
Pangangamba
Malayang-malaya ka na

The Tagalog of the first line is ambiguous. It could be interpreted either as “You are free from me,” which indeed sounds like a romantic letting go of a dying relationship, or it could be interpreted much-differently as “You are free with me.” The freedom referred to in this latter sense is not simply a lack of restrictions, but moreover a transcendent type of liberty that is made possible by something great—perhaps sacrificial love, or Providence itself.

Regardless of which interpretation is taken, the rest of the lines can be readily translated with greater certainty:

…Love without
fearing
You are now truly free

Yet, if one listens intently, and looks further into the story of the musician herself, then there would be no doubt left as to what this powerful piece of music really means.

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Review: ‘Dating Gawi’ by Rico Blanco

The brevity of Dating Gawi’s eight tracks disguises the variety of affections with which Rico Blanco explores the central theme of love.

Rico Blanco’s silhouette peers into what appears to be a doorway or window on the cover art of Dating Gawi. We could translate the record’s title in English as “Like the Old Times”. And the art is appropriate: we could imagine that Rico’s figure is looking beyond a scenery into a distant but bright past.

The entire package of the album is minimalist. Everything from liner notes to the lyrics sheet to the CD itself is just an all-caps typeface on solid white or gray. There is no imagery beyond the earlier-described cover art.

This is in harmony with the album’s sound, as we find out when we start spinning the disc. In Dating Gawi, Rico delves into the “back to basics” spirit of music-making that appears to be the current trend among mainstays of the Filipino alternative music scene: Sandwich went back to their heavy late ’90s sound with 2013’s Fat Salt & Flame, and continued the exercise with 2015’s Debris; Imago, following the departure of Aia de Leon, distanced themselves from the teeny-bopper-friendly tunes of Blush and revisited their resounding Take 2 palette with 2014’s Kapit (Hold On); and, perhaps most remarkably, Pupil paid homage to classic rock with 2015’s Zilch, wherein they dropped the fancy guitarwork and delivered anthems brimming with brash riffs.

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‘Dagitab’ (2014): counter-romantic, poetic

This is a review of Dagitab, a film by Giancarlo Abrahan that competed in the New Breed section of the 2014 Cinemalayà independent film festival. It is a rather difficult film; of course what I present here is merely my personal experience of the work. I imagine the film easily yields to many different interpretations.

Official movie poster for Dagitab (2014) by Giancarlo Abrahan

Before dealing with what the film is about, I’d like to take note of the film’s style. It is partly defined by vague sequences: whatever visual clarity Dagitab possesses is counter-balanced by the subtlety of their meanings. The scenes do not always have a causal follow-up, nor do they always have a sensible precedent. The film’s last scene exemplifies this: we find the characters nonchalantly discussing their next plans, and these are plans that seem to utterly disregard the build-up of the last few scenes. I was left with the feeling that after all that had happened, I still didn’t know the characters. The incongruity is likely meant to be a subdued twist, a subtle surprise that is unfortunately difficult to make sense of. Delightfully though, Dagitab is complemented by its poetic quality. There is a striking shot in the middle of the film of one of the main characters where, after turning on the radio, he sits on his working chair, leans back and closes his eyes. The camera lingers on the scene. It was quiet, and yet it was brilliant as a characterization of this mysterious character. I never understood what was going on in his mind at that point, but never did I feel the urge to know. It was a moment meant to be taken without question, a poetic image to be enjoyed on its own.

A movie still of Dagitab (2014) showing actor Nonie Buencamino sitting on a chair and leaning back
Nonie Buencamino in Dagitab (2014). (Image from cinemalaya.org)

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