‘2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten’ (Petersen Vargas, 2016): confronting nature and nations

The power of nature and the past of a nation lurk behind this story about the volatilities of youth.

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It is the late 1990s in the province of Pampanga. Several years have passed since the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that buried so many of the province’s towns under massive volumes of debris. The volcanic material combine with rainwater from perennial typhoons to produce lahar; the government builds the Megadike in an attempt to contain its destructive power.

Meanwhile, American military forces have recently evacuated the bases in Clark air field and nearby Subic Bay, partly as a result of the Pinatubo disaster, and partly as a result of political decisions by a nation asserting its sovereignty.

This is the backdrop of 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, though the film obscures the consequences of its setting behind blithe cinematography, frames color-graded to a fresh and hopeful palette. Even the aspect ratio is an unusual 5:4. The combined visual effect evokes the nostalgia of old Kodak photos—a nostalgia that tends to summon simple, happy recollections while conveniently forgetting painful, complicated memories.

Petersen Vargas, in a limited résumé consisting of such shorts as Geography Lessons and the music video for BP Valenzuela’s Steady, has already demonstrated a distinct style before working on 2 Cool. Sometimes, as with Steady, he paints a mood through the cinematic equivalent of sweet nothings—stylized, mesmerizing visuals with no particular statements. Sometimes, as with this film, his first full-length work, he maximizes cinematic language in telling his story, while still infusing it with his unique gaze. Combine this directorial reputation with young actors capable of competent, convincing performances, and we have a compelling film in our hands.

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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Spaces and definitions

Spaces

A long time ago, our ancestors selected certain sounds from the diverse range of impressions that the human vocal tract is capable of producing, and agreed upon to attach meanings to those sounds, thereby creating language in a process that is still not yet fully understood today. In a similar way, we as individuals and as a society do not wander aimlessly about the places we live and move in everyday. We define spaces, we attach significance to certain areas of our world, and I think this activity will only intensify in an increasingly crowded, modern world.

Perhaps the most obvious and most-commonly defined space that comes to mind is the home. There is no shortage of instances in popular literature and culture that pay homage to this most comfortable and most valued of places. At the end of struggles and pain and sacrifices, there will always be a warm home full of love that the protagonist can return to. The movie Apocalypto, after all the scenes of horror and action-adventure, can be thought of simply as a man’s prolonged journey home. Superman, or Kal-el, was brought to Earth because of the destruction of his home planet. “The World is Our Playground and We Will Always Be Home,” according to the band Up dharma Down.

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