My Ten Cents On: Ang Nawawala (What isn’t there)

Sorry that it’s been a while. Apart from work, I’ve been struggling to come up with something to write. The last few films I’ve seen have kind of sapped me, and left me with a little less impetus to put my thoughts and opinions to words. Sadly, both these movies were local Filipino flicks, films that were generally received well locally, but left less than a great taste in my mouth.

First off, I’d like to start by saying that when it comes to the independent scene, context and audience experience becomes much more important in the reception of a film. Unlike blockbusters or typical Hollywood fair that would appeal to a broad spectrum of people, independent film generally goes for a much smaller audience. I have no qualms in saying that, in all objectivity, I am probably not the target market of Filipino Independent Cinema. I am not the person they’re trying to talk to, and so please take my review with that little caveat in mind. With that, I’d like to talk about the first of the movies that caused my slide into cinematic apathy.

Ang Nawawala is a full feature-length film that tells the story of Gibson, a young man who spent the majority of his life abroad, and has been mute ever since witnessing the death of his twin brother Jamie. The film picks up with him returning to his home in Manila. He comes home to a family that is silently tearing at the seams, communication between them has become few and far between. The only person he ever speaks to is the imaginary visage of his twin brother. One day, his friend Teddy takes him out and at that party. Gibson makes a new group of friends, in particular, this girl named Enid, who opens him up to the culture of independent music, art, and love. This film was one of many stunning moments, but a great many that fell flat as well, and with a theme that never quite resonated with me, as you’ll hopefully see.

+ The Music

Nothing like sharing food and good music with your friends

In this film, the most outstanding and memorable scenes in this movie were music centered. From the group of friends singing together while sitting around a table, to Gibson calling Enid in order for her to listen to a concert that she otherwise would have missed, this film captured those famous music moments like the “Tiny Dancer” scene in Almost Famous (credit to Wincy Ong for this concept of the “Tiny Dancer Moment” that I shall now forever borrow), and the boom box scene from Say Anything. It didn’t hurt that the music was fantastic. The film’s soundtrack is an audiophile’s feast, with great songs left and right from some of the country’s best musicians, a far cry from what most people think to be the “shallow, meaningless, factory-made” songs in Filipino mainstream music.

That being said, this film treated these songs right. Some scenes made the music the star, with the visuals supporting it. It had genuine music moments that gripped me and had me forgetting that I was watching a movie, moments where emotion welled up in me, and I felt I got to know more about the characters than in any of the dialogue and exposition.

Music and romance, it’s not new, but it never gets old.

+ The Cinematography and Editing

The film was shot well from a technical standpoint. The camera showed what it needed to, and more importantly, hid what it needed to. There were very few moments of waster frames in scenes (though there were wasted scenes, but I’ll get into that later).  The camera work brought our eyes to important events, important things, and actions, but never jammed it down our throat. The length of the shots and the distance of the viewpoint from the subject were right where they needed to be.

I couldn’t really tell you much more, because over the course of the film I never really noticed the camera work and editing. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I find this to be a great thing. The best editing is one where you never notice it, and I never found myself thinking that a scene was too long or too short. I could follow every movement and all the shots within a scene were edited so smoothly that individual scenes felt very organic, flowing. No complaints here.

+ The Acting

The performances in this film were mostly subtle, and subtle was the way to go. The film, with its play of silence (slow, often quiet interactions between characters) and sound (the music), translated from subtle to expressive just as often. Dawn Zulueta’s stoic/”a little dead inside” portrayal of Gibson‘s mother was magnetic, and Dominic Roco as the protagonist himself did a commendable job. The performances here were all well done and while not everyone stood out, no one did a particularly bad job. The rest of the family, Bobby Garovillo, Jenny Jamora, and Sabrina Man, expressed themselves very well, and like I mentioned before, the moments with friends felt very genuine.

I only wish they had better characters to portray.

– The Characters

The film started out by showing us very interesting characters. You had Gibson, the mute main protagonist, the stoic ice cold mother, the over-achieving younger sister, the house-keeping, worrying elder sister, and the disillusioned dad who smiles and tries to sweep problems under the rug with a happy and sympathetic attitude. I looked forward to see how Gibson’s story, his return from a self-imposed exodus, would change this home dynamic. I was eagerly anticipating these characters to grow with the return of Gibson. The thing is, they didn’t. Aside from Gibson, no one in the family changed, developed, got better or worse, they just stayed the same.

Enid on the other hand, was written like a poor-man’s Zooey Deschanel. She basically was the quirky, cute, indie girl. She’s a girl of the world, loving to go bargain hunting in the flea market, looking for art, indie music, “unique” clothes, and yet is the daughter of an upper/upper-middle class home. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I felt like there could have been more to her than simply being an indie girl. Throughout the film, we see her in record stores, art galleries, indie gigs. She’s the type to fall for anyone who’d play a note, and embraces her free-spirit. She’s a stereotype, a sum-total of all the things that indie people have in common, with no traits that would stand her out as an individual. And for the very definition of indie, and all it connotes, that isn’t something an indie character should be. These characters were mistreated in my opinion and so it’s going to be no surprise that I feel the next negative is…

– The Plot

When you have a character-based plot, and a character pool that goes nowhere, it makes sense that the plot goes nowhere too. There were a lot of great scenes, a lot of fantastic moments (this one scene at a cemetery is awe-inspiring), but they didn’t tie together into a literary “ooooh” or “a-haa” moment, it just kind of… ended. Not to give too much away, but the film was more of a day-in-the-life piece, but focused so much more on showing the artsy community and where they hang. I felt a vibe more akin to:  “look at these places, they’re kinda cool and hip, right?” vs. one that was: “here’s a story of a man and his family and how they deal with the recurring waves of a tragedy that happened almost a decade ago.” And that made it decidedly “meh” for me.

When it comes to local film, I often put technical execution in the back seat to plot, and with a plot that pulled me in with a family in crisis only to show me where all the artsy people would go. I was really disappointed. I hate having the feeling like I’ve seen this movie before, or that you’re not showing me anything new and wondrous on screen. I don’t know what the director was trying to achieve, and all I really got from the movie was that rich kids go to gigs and art galleries now, apparently, and that at some point, everyone runs crying to their mommy. Overall, the good didn’t make the bad all that worth it for me.

My Cent’s Worth: 4/10

Ang Nawawala was a film that would work for some, not for all. This was a film that wouldn’t connect with the Filipino masses all too well, and would alienate those without any artistic inclination. That alone was enough for me to walk out of the theater thoroughly nonplussed. I didn’t like how specific and exclusionary this movie’s audience was. This film, rather than showing the outside world what it was like being an artistic youth coming from a well-to-do family in a third world country like the Philippines, it seemed to just be pandering to that artistic youth culture, saying: “hey remember that gig we went to? It was like this, right?” or “You know that dream you have about talking to that perfect guy/girl communicating through vinyl record album titles? Well, we did that too!”

Like I said, I wasn’t this movie’s target audience, and as such, it failed to impress. Watch it if you like, but unless you frequent these artistic dens and have a circle of friends in it, you can very easily side-step this movie and go for something else.

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Posted on September 25, 2012, in Film Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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