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Ang Nawawala (2012)
Every once in a while, I find a film so beautiful, moving and relatable that I find it hard to sum up in words. “Ang Nawawala” is such a film. Its subtelty and poignancy has cut my heart out and got me tongue-tied. It is so painfully sweet, so depressingly good that I am writing this review with so much and nothing to say at the same time. The film left me as speechless as its protagonist, and whatever writing I’m doing will probably end up as confused ramblings of an emotional girl.
Ironically, this is going to be a very long review containing NECESSARY SPOILERS. I am attempting to expound on the undertones which I can’t do without giving out some details. And because I’m getting really carried away.
“Ang Nawawala” (What Isn’t There) focuses on 20-year old Gibson Bonifacio (Dominic Roco) who has not spoken in ten years. Because of trauma and guilt, he pulled away from the world, setting up his selective mutism as a wall. He comes home for Christmas to a dysfunctional family. His mother (Dawn Zulueta), a woman distant and broken, welcomes him with a cold heart. And when mother and son first look at each other after a long time, we see the pain and longing in Gibson’s eyes.
The Bonifacios are dysfunctional in a very quiet, somber way. They sit over dinner with awkward formality. Although the father (Boboy Garrovillo) tries to cheer everyone up, the cloud hanging over their heads is too heavy to disperse. We see a family portrait of depression. And when we notice one vacant chair on the other end of the table, we understand that something is really missing in the picture.
Gibson moves around the house like a ghost. He locks himself up in his bedroom, smokes pot, and plays his records. Even when he is spending time with his family, he doesn’t really connect with them completely. He tries, with the help of a video camera. He records moments he finds to be special, no matter how ordinary they are. And then he mashes them up in his computer, adding tracks of music that describe how he feels about these memories. He also reconnects with an old friend, Teddy (Alchris Galura), who introduces him to the local music scene. Here, he meets Enid (Annicka Dolonius). They are into the same things and she doesn’t judge him when she finds out he doesn’t talk. She becomes someone he can finally talk with, albeit not without his iPhone. And as her name implies, she brings “life” back to his existence.
NOW, JUST WHY I LOVE THIS FILM.
Ang Natagpuan (What is Found)
Guilty confession: I was a big New Kids on The Block fan. I was nine years old, and literally didn’t know any better. I loved Hanging Tough, and knew every step in Step by Step by heart. I could also proudly sing Joe McIntyre’s “it’s just yooooou and meeeee” in perfect pitch. I watched the cartoon, and had a little NKOTB fan group with my grade school friends. In the midst of this NKOTB lovefest a student came in from Boston. I instantly welcomed him to our fold, and asked him about his city, which is where the New Kids were from. “NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK!? YUCK! They passed by our school and I shot a spitball at Danny Wood. I hate those guys.”
This is how I met Ramon de Veyra, co-writer of Ang Nawawala. Being the impressionable 9 year-old I was, I instantly turned my back on NKOTB to join the cool kid. I was suddenly jumping around Maria Montessori grade school with Ramon singing the Beastie Boys’ Whacha Want. This continued on to high school, where we would spend hours on the phone talking about how life-changing Clerks was, or his obsession with Natalie Portman (he will kill me for saying this but he used to buy her perfume), or singing riffs off of Smashing Pumpkins songs because neither of us knew how to play the guitar.
And then there is Marie Jamora.
During my first year of college everyone would tell me that I had to meet Marie Jamora. “She edited the Eraserheads’ magazine, Pillbox!” “She has tons of CD’s!” “She writes for the Philippine Star!” Of course, I disliked her without even meeting her. Only one teenager in Ateneo could be friends with rock stars and have a cool CD collection, and it definitely shouldn’t be this Marie Jamora character.
I did meet her eventually, at Colayco Hall during a Ciudad performance. Suffice to say, we became besties instantly. She taught me all about emo in 1998, I experienced a David Fincher catharsis right beside her at a screening of Fight Club, and there was an almost-embarrassing incident talking to Wes Anderson at Momofuku (this, however, is Marie’s story to tell). We were regulars in each other’s houses, we took care of one another through our first heartbreaks, I wrote her yearbook write-up, and she wrote mine. We even have a band together called Blast Ople, and have been playing music for 14 years without proof of existence, unless you count our 24-member Facebook page.
Ramon met Marie separately, spontaneously conversing about The Sweet Hereafter. It was a scene worthy of belonging in their debut feature, and was the beginning of a great friendship and creative partnership. The two worked together on Project Runway Philippines Season One, and have done astounding things on their own. Marie is one of the most important music video directors in our country’s history, having done definitive pieces for artists like The Eraserheads (Maskara), Sandwich (DVD-X, Sugod, Food For The Soul), The Itchyworms (Buwan, Love Team) and Urbandub (First of Summer; Endless, A Silent Whisper). She’d also directed a number of amazing shorts; including Si Dexter Calliope at ang Ibong Adarna, my personal favorite Kaarawan, and Patayan/Pata ‘yan, an adaptation of a Roald Dahl short that in my opinion is better than Alfred Hitchcock’s version. Ramon wrote one-third of the feature film First Time, the best Captain Barbell script I’ve ever read (that was, sadly, never made), and some of my favorite episodes of AXN’s Mad Mad Fun and TV5’s Rakista. He is currently stirring up trouble as a contributing editor for esquire and music video director. After what seems like forever, they’ve made a movie together, and it’s called Ang Nawawala.
Ang Nawawala was a runaway hit at Cinemanila, winning the audience award. Some critics have dismissed the film as being too burgis or upperclass. This, of course, is utterly ridiculous. I don’t hear the work of Kim Ki Duk being called “too social surrealist for a Korean film” or Amelie being “too entertaining for French cinema”. Art is best when it’s personal, when it’s honest; not when it fits into convenient little boxes of classification. And if you’ve read anything that has come before this paragraph Ang Nawawala oozes with the personal histories and philosophies of its creators. With such inspiring variety including Chris Martinez’s comedies and John Torres’s autobiographical fiction and now movies about the upperclass like The Animals and Ang Nawawala, Philippine cinema has evolved. Maybe it’s time some of the critics caught up.
I started this with the intent of writing another review of the film. Then I realized that
1) there are tons of wonderful insightful reviews about this film already (my favorite)
2) there is no way I can write something objective about this movie. When I see the characters going to gigs I see the times we would go to Mayric’s or Club Dredd, as kids who just loved music. When Gibson dresses up as Agent Dale Cooper I am reminded of the VHS (VHS!) Twin Peaks marathon Ramon, Marie and I went through. All of Enid and Gibson’s conversations about randomness and philosophies in life have some elements of our 4AM talks in parked cars about pop culture and life, which was more or less the same thing for us. There was even a WTF moment where seeing Ramon playing poker in the movie reminded me of… Ramon playing poker.
12 years ago I promised Marie that I would be the first to stand up and applaud, front and center, at the premiere of her first feature film. I sadly couldn’t do that, and instead had Marie show me Ang Nawawala at her house. Midway through the film is a scene where the lead character Gibson goes and gets beers for himself and his romantic interest. Marie decides to shoot this moment in a slow motion walking shot, which is peculiar for a filmmaker as restrained and precise as her. Then I realized why she did it—for Gibson, the simple, tiny act of getting something for someone he’s all kilig over means the world to him. I turned to Marie, then I started bawling.
What are you doing?!
(cries) I’m… I’m so proud of you
Oh my God who has a camera?!
ME (still crying)
Don’t you dare take a picture of this.
But why are you crying?! It’s the happiest scene in the movie!
It took me a while to realize why, but this is my answer: All her life Marie has been making beautiful things. Whether it’s her classic music video for Sandwich’s Sugod, a sweet Nikki Gil CloseUp commercial or her short film Quezon City, there is superior craftsmanship. Mostly she’s been making stuff for other people; be it the record label, her professors in Columbia University, or execs from multinational corporations. But in this specific frame, in this specific feature film, this was Marie putting her heart out there for everyone to see. And it really is the most beautiful thing she’s ever made.
Ang Nawawala comes out in theaters today. I can’t promise you that the movie will change your life, or that you’ll even love it like I do. But I can promise you this: this is Marie. And this is Ramon. And despite having met them in uniquely awesome ways, Ang Nawawala is the best introduction you’ll ever get to my two friends.
*Kat Velayo, a mutual friend who was the only other person in the room
much love and thanks to Neva for providing the title of this piece.
Conversations with Marie Jamora.
- Marie: "So, what's been up with you? Are you writing another book?"
- Sarah: "Trying. It's looking like it's going to take awhile. Like six years maybe."
- Marie: "What? That's a long time..."
- Sarah: "I know. It's just...this one is so personal, and difficult to write, and I'm sort of...I don't know..."
- Marie: "...waiting for certain people to die?"
- Sarah: "Well, yeah. Basically."
- (Marie Jamora is the genius behind the indie film 'Ang Nawawala'. She has also directed music videos for the likes of Sandwich, Imago, Bamboo, Sponge Cola, and Urbandub, as well as the first season of Project Runway Philippines.)
What Isn't There
It all started with soaked feet, flat shoes, cream-turned-black lace socks and a second chance. I like walking so much that I didn’t mind walking with a hole on the sole of my shoe, absorbing all the dampness of the streets I waded, turning cold and eventually becoming unbearable to walk with. But still I walked. I stood in line for hours in conversation, trying to withstand my feet as cold as ice. The sombre August sky and scattered rainfall did not help. But at least the company and the warmth of my arms wrapped around myself were enough to make me forget about my toes, the long line and the even colder stares.
“Andito parin naman ako ah kahit wala na siya!” Don’t judge the line. I said this with a huge, genuine grin on my face. That was just the first second of a three-second story where G.and D. laughed right after the words came out of my parted lips.
Of second chances and first romances.
And then dream sequence no. 2 happens.
There was nothing extremely special about the synopsis, the characters, the cinematography, except that the moment I read the title, I knew the film was made for me. And little did I know that the film was me.
“I’m still there.”
The obvious marker. The obvious beginning of the tears starting to trickle down my cheeks and onto my skirt. They met at an art exhibit, then conversed over cold bottles of pale beer and ate hotdogs at a convenient store at such an ungodly hour. Their words came more alive under city lights and plucked melodies, under cheap skies over cheap drinks. Because nothing is more perfect than this.
You hang out at record stores, give vinyls as gifts not only because of the artist but because the words written on the cover sound so right. You listen to songs until they become words synchronized and syncopated to the beat, as if you are listening to each other unravel the heavy heart, unsay what needs to be said, sew back what was torn apart. Because nothing is more perfect than this.
“I’m still there.”
I kind of hate Enid tonight. But I don’t think I will any longer.
…Because I know where ‘there’ is. I know why she left despite the almost-perfect relationship. I know why she left despite the songs they listened to, the numerous records they danced to, the bands they swayed their heads and closed their eyes to, as if all were created for them and the worlds they have curled themselves up in.
Maybe I will always be ‘there’. Even if ‘there’ would not be where it used to be anymore.