‘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.

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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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Review: ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ (2017)

A standard Star Cinema rom-com, with a few delightful tricks.

To provide an upfront summary of this review: ‘Can We Still Be Friends?’ is your standard rom-com, cast in the same old Star Cinema mold, with a few nice tricks up its tried-and-tested sleeve. That this movie is not groundbreaking should not be taken against it—and the story itself gives us a reason why.

Warning: this review includes spoilers.

Before anything else, let us mention the film’s worst moment: a minute or so is spent on product placement in the middle of the action. It is not as blatant or tacky as certain MMFF entries have been, but neither is it subtle. Jarring advertisements like this destroy storytelling flow. At least, the scene does not take too long. It cuts out before audiences can start hurling tomatoes at the screen.

Can We Still Be Friends? is made by the same core filmmaking team behind crowd-favorite indie Sleepless, and the horror-romance Ang Mananggal Sa Unit 23B (AMU23B), also an indie. Both films were entries at different editions of the QCinema Film Festival; Can We Still Be Friends?, therefore, represents this filmmaking band’s crossing into mainstream cinema. The team’s past work provides a convenient standard against which their latest work can be measured.

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On the meaning and value of work

Work, as a concept, is a rich and multi-dimensional idea. As a starting point, I will take the definition I once heard (from a priest, if I remember correctly), that work is simply the transformation of our environment.

Defined this way, work becomes an encompassing aspect of life. Work can be physical and tangible, as in the work of mining and refining minerals from the earth, or synthesizing substances in a chemical factory, or constructing structures from pieces of wood, metal and glass. Work can also be intangible, as in intellectual work, gathering and synthesizing knowledge in various fields of science, or sharing them with others in education.

Work has a similar definition in the physical sciences, where it means the transfer of energy when a force is applied to matter resulting in motion of a definite distance. The idea is similar, because it also involves a transformation; without movement or results, mere application of force does not become work. To perform work in physics is to transform the shape and location of objects in our surroundings.

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