A Day in the Life of Two Lovers (That’s All That Matters)
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Writers: Joselito Altarejos, Zig Madamba Dulay
Stars: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila
For the past couple of years that I’ve been attending Cinemalaya, I’ve usually steered clear of Director’s Showcase entries. The primary reasons for this are: money doesn’t grow on trees, time is gold, and I’d really rather see what brilliant new filmmakers have to offer. Another thing, some veteran directors who join the festival have their roots deep into mainstream cinema, and it so happens that bad (mainstream) habits die hard.
But this year, a refreshing film took the spotlight. Joselito Altarejos’ ”Kasal” won Best Film, beating even the most sought-after entry ”Hustisya.” Of course, stories about same-sex relationships have graced the indie silver screen for years — of which I haven’t seen many. But of those I’ve seen (local or foreign), “Kasal” is probably the most realistic and relatable representation of same-sex relationships. The characters and their chemistry are so genuine that you know the film isn’t just talking about gender. It’s truly, simply about two people in love, struggling with the universal difficulties of love.
"Kasal" gives its audience a rare, intimate view into the everyday life of a same sex couple — complete with the mundanity, the sizzlingly detailed sex, and the emotional nuances that pretty much every other romantic relationship has. It doesn’t just linger on the challenge of being homosexual in a conservative society but also delves deeper into the struggles within the relationship. Instead of highlighting the difficulties unique to same-sex relationships, the film focuses on what makes them just like others.
An interesting point about “Kasal,” especially as a Director’s Showcase entry, is that it oozes with everything indie. In a category reserved for well-known directors with mainstream techniques, “Kasal” stands out as a truly independent film, treatment-wise. It looks like a relatively small production. Many of the scenes seem to be shot in convenient locations, primarily indoors. Tight cinematography take us right into the comfort zones of the characters, showing us how they are at home, at work, with friends, and with family. And with the exhaustive, continuous, and uncut sex scene that runs for probably at least 5 minutes, “Kasal” is as intimate as it gets.
Of all the film’s honesty, what truly stands out are the two parallel scenes shot from behind a window: the opening scene taken from the condominium balcony, and the scene with the lovers engaged in a heartbreaking fight on an empty street, as seen - but not heard - from inside the car. These two scenes noticeably put a distance between the characters and the camera. Somehow, the audience is suddenly cast aside to the role of an outsider. But at the same time, from this distance, we are able to see the gap between the two lovers, no matter how entwined together they are. It’s no longer the actors’ faces that speak to us, but the space of uncertainty surrounding them, and which threatens to drive a wedge between the two souls painfully clinging to each other.
In a genre that represents a group largely treated as a minority, “Kasal” is incredibly inclusive. It portrays the problems that lack of communication can cause in relationships — homosexual or otherwise — and even touches on familial conflicts. The natural acting — Arnold Reyes and Oliver Aquino delivered some of the most convincing performances I’ve seen in recent years — and the ordinariness of the scenarios make the film easy to relate to. The conversations also seem spontaneous. As in real life, it’s in the slight changes in tone and the sudden moments of silence that we see how easily we tend to sweep things under the rug, and at the same time, how hard it is for us to actually forget.
First World Problems in a Third-World Country
Director: Gino M. Santos
Writer: Jeff Stelton
Stars: Elmo Magalona, Coleen Garcia, Sophie Albert, Kit Thompson, Slater Young, Chynna Ortaleza
Generation Y, the youth of the millennium. Born and raised in a fast-paced world at a time where old and new challenges converge. Drugs, sex, and alcohol are hyped up even more by a web-centric culture — one that values fame, vanity, and materialism. This kind of life is captured by the youth-oriented “#Y,” a welcome respite from the heavy, socio-political films that have characterized independent Filipino cinema. But while the film simply illustrates the Millennial lifestyle and presents the “First World” problems that this privileged, 21st-century Filipino subculture faces, “#Y” also hints on bigger underlying difficulties, particularly depression.
“#Y” begins with the apparent suicide of Miles (Elmo Magalona), a college student from an affluent family. Life flashing before his eyes, Miles traces back his peculiar relationship with death. He believes he first became fascinated with the idea of death as a boy when a grandparent died. How this fascination drove him to attempt suicide a few weeks ago, Miles doesn’t really know. But after the incident, he starts getting a better picture of what kind of life it is that he chose to give up on.
After his first suicide attempt, Miles becomes diagnosed with depression “with bipolar and schizophrenic tendencies.” The news about him being “crazy” spread like wildfire, thanks to social media. He tries to get back to his life and live like nothing happened. This is easy in the company of his friends who, like him, seem to have forgotten about his recent suicidal state. They carry on, taking their regular dose of drugs, alcohol, partying, and sex. But before they know it, their self-destructive behaviour takes its toll. Scandals break out, relationships are destroyed, and death comes knocking on their doors. Eventually, Miles seeks help from a suicide hotline operator Abby (Chynna Ortaleza) who seems to be the only one to really pay attention. In their midnight musings and conversations, Miles comes face to face with the ‘why’ (pun probably intended?) — why he wanted to die — and the answer that will decide his fate.
“#Y” may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It portrays a specific crowd: wealthy college students who can afford lavish Western lifestyles and have their parents off of their backs. Thus, the film can somehow lose its personal significance to other types of viewers. Nevertheless, it manages to give itself some social relevance with a plot point that obviously alludes to the Napoles scandal, showing that even these ‘rich kids’ get affected by national issues. However, the film primarily focuses on the characters’ personal conflicts and personality flaws. It touches themes such as family dysfunction, financial insecurity, sexual frustration, religion, and most of all, depression.
However, perhaps in its attempt to pack on as many conflicts as possible, “#Y” falls short in showing their magnitude. It seems to only breeze through these problems, and we never really see how deeply affected the characters are. “#Y” looks more like a mere presentation, a preview of what it’s like to be an upper-class Millennial. While it tries to say that this generation is overwhelmed with the ubiquity of social issues, it doesn’t convincingly show us that these characters are truly troubled. Thus, it’s hard to empathize with the characters — even Miles who isn’t even believably depressed.
While I would like to applaud the filmmakers for bringing up depression, it seems to me that depression was not used effectively as a narrative device. It was used more like a hook, to lead the viewers on with curiosity. Suicide is an important and sensitive topic, so it’s necessary to treat it more than a catchphrase. More than anything, it has to build the character. Interestingly, it can also be a character. But while Miles clearly states that he has thought of death a lot of times, we don’t see him struggle with depression. Miles doesn’t even necessarily have to look depressed, but we have to see that he is indeed carrying a burden. It’s only right to explore the significance of depression in the story, especially since Miles has been diagnosed with the disorder. Despite his breakdown, his dangerous attraction to scissors, his narrations, and his hallucinations, we don’t really get to see him in a genuine state of depression. We are not given insight to his soul. The ending does somehow shed some light into Miles’s emptiness, as the voiceover summarises the story rather bluntly. But without the narration and the twist (which probably didn’t take everyone by surprise), “#Y” would’ve had loose ends.
Gino M. Santos deserves some recognition for trying to reach out to an audience that is not commonly represented in the Filipino film industry, and more importantly, for trying to talk about depression. But his attempt rather stays as it is: an attempt. Simply put, “#Y” gives genuine laughter and a memorable quote or two. But as a film that could have examined this generation’s psyche, it appears somewhat gimmicky. It’s bold because the characters’ lifestyles are bold, but it doesn’t turn the characters inside out. Finally, as a film that could have opened a discussion about depression, it lacked the power to move. It’s disappointing because depression can tell so much about the human condition, especially of this generation, but it remains in the sidelines, seemingly forgotten.