I have decided to end my long silence on Philippine films in this blog. There are a number of reasons for doing so. The film I'm about to review being one of them. I do not intend to write many reviews of Philippine films so when you see one, know that the film has registered as significant to me.
The script of this movie is part traditional cinematic dialogue and part the spoken poetry of Merlinda Bobis, Ruth Mabanglo, Joi Barros, Rebecca Anonuevo, Ophelia Dimalanta and Benilda Santos. You might wonder if its possible to include so much feminist poetry in a movie without it becoming academic. The movie is hardly academic. Instead, the poetry is used as a way for Karen (played by Jean Garcia) to bring a particular matter into the field of consciousness with more emotional resonance than just dialogue.
Rich kid Marlon (played by Paulo Avelino) is a mediocre student in his poetry class, taught by Karen. He also happens to have a big crush on her. Stalking her, he discovers that she also sidelines as a dance instructor and choreographer. He is caught watching her from outside her studio one day by fellow poetry class student Dennis (Rocco Nacino). He does not recognize or really have a familiarity with Dennis from his poetry class.
However, sensing an opportunity, Marlon offers Dennis a ride to the studio the next day where he eventually decides to hire Marlon to teach him the various dances that Karen is teaching so that he can enter the class with competence. Marlon simply asks that the instruction be done outside the knowledge of Karen. Dennis who has a crush on Marlon readily agrees.
The private tutoring brings the two young men together. Marlon eventually enters Karen's dance class. However, Karen seeing precisely what is going on, decides to bring things into consciousness which naturally brings light to a conflict in Marlon. As we know, so long as things remain in the unconscious, it is easy for denial to operate effectively with the left hand simply undoing what the right hand has done without conflict. But as soon as the conflict is brought into consciousness, there is tremendous suffering.
Let me digress momentarily to help illustrate this point. In Lihim ni Antonio, we could clearly see what was going on, di ba? Remember Uncle Jonbert. It was as clear as clear could be -- even Tong's mother saw him cuddling with Tong. But, as long as denial is operative and everything is occurring in the unconscious, there is no problem. When Tere is finally told the obvious truth about the unfaithfulness of her overseas husband, suddenly everything is dragged into consciousness. The shadow side is brought under the light and what Tong fantasized Uncle Jonbert being his plaything, turns out that Tong is Uncle Jonbert's plaything. We see that when the conflict is brought into consciousness, there is tremendous suffering and it does not necessarily produce a successful end. Tere goes catatonic and Tong is sent drifting out to sea -- to reproduce the struggle and, perhaps, transcend it.
Back to Sayaw. So Karen nudges Marlon to be conscious of his conflict. Karen overhears a brief comment by Dennis to Marlon which indicates something occurring behind the scenes. Karen then discovers from the studio landlord the entire arrangement. She makes it known to Marlon that she knows and also asks him if she thinks his crush on her is appropriate. Marlon's reaction is to blame Dennis and be mad at Dennis! The conflict has been brought into consciousness.
It is at this point that Karen helps conduct Marlon through a series of exercises that will help him to discover within himself the resolution to his conflict: a choreographed version of Humapadnon in the Hinilawod epic of the Suludnon.
I will save the ending for you to discover if/how his conflict is resolved when you watch the film. But I will add one more point about the movie which I think is relevant for my understanding of it. As Marlon and Dennis work towards the performance, Marlon has a moment of panic where he attempts to control his out-of-control feelings which are well outside of his comfort zone. He does it by attempting to minimize the significance of Dennis. (In much the same way that the conflict of Walang Kawala begins when Joaquin attempts to take control of his own conflict by trying to minimize the significance of Waldo.)
The final scene, which is the staged, choreographed enactment of the part of the Hinilawod where Nagmalitong Yawa saves Humapadnon, is where the conflict's underlying symbolic tensions -- with Marlon at its center as Humapadnon and the archetypal forces at work -- are most clearly revealed.
Alvin Yapan did an excellent job of weaving the story together with the textiles of feminist poetry, indigenous epic and emotion. The cinematography, by Alvin Viola, was also masterfully done just as he did in Lalake sa Parola and Lihim ni Antonio.
The movie will be opening this Wednesday 26 October at the following theaters:
SM: North Edsa, Megamall, Centerpoint, Manila, Southmall, MOA and Bacoor
Ayala: Glorietta 4, Trinoma