Dr. Strangesoul: Or How I Love The Short Films of John Torres and Why I Get Killed After Seeing Todo Todo Teros Again January 26, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Essay, Indie Sine, Mogwai, Noypi, UP Screening.
Tawidgutom, 2005 (3 mins)
Salat, 2005 (12 mins)
Kung Paano Kita Liligawan Nang ‘Di Kumakapit Sa Iyo, 2005 (13 mins)
Todo Todo Teros, 2006 (110 mins)
Except for their quirky titles, I can vaguely remember John Torres’s short films, which were screened at Mogwai almost a month ago. Whether it is genius photographic memory or preordained low-latent inhibition that one must possess to grasp entirely those soporific images of undeniable beauty, I’m sure I don’t have any of the two. Good thing I still have my mind — I manage not to lose even a curl of it, and what immediately runs like a high voltage current and electrocutes me right after is the sheer need to see more of his films, more of his words, more of his video poems, and more of his soulful ramblings — for the only thing that stays with me is the feeling, the deafening sound of eclipse, and, definitely, the enormity of the entire thing.
Tawidgutom, Salat, and Kung Paano Kita Liligawan Nang ‘Di Kumakapit Sa Iyo? compose the Otros Trilogy, Torres’s first wave of shorts, which had its international premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival last 2005. It can be seen as a progression, a linear tale of love and its loss, introduced by a series of mournful shots and bereft monologue, signaling a dismal repertoire of emotions soon to flood our eyes. Or perhaps otherwise — a backward progression, something in his poems that feels like a repercussion of another, feels like we have a corporeal rewinder inside our bodies that we forgot to turn off and before we know it, we are already out of the safe shore, the surface tension lied to us, said we can walk on water like insects. Torres’s decision to share his private miseries with us is not unusual — what makes his works so achingly beautiful is his unwavering sincerity — how brutally honest he is with his words without losing our interest in listening to his pain, it’s as if his agony is something that he would share with us to unburden him, bit by bit, strophe by strophe. Despite the extremely personal nature of his works, which I would describe as “gently indulgent,” he delivers some of the most affecting portraits of love ever seen in digital video, comparable to Jean-Luc Godard’s harrowing In Praise of Love, delineating, a conjecture of cardiovascular freedom, starting to manifest itself gravely, as if it blocks our arteries (fats and coagulated blood), recognising its death, and awaiting resurrection.
The nocturnal longing in Tawidgutom caves in; the sketches of urban solitude in Salat, an account of vanishing dreams represented by a pair of ice creams in The Last Sherbet, the crakerjack hommage to footballer Miklós Féhér in The Lunar Play, and who would forget how staunch he is in insisting to let her ex-girlfriend cry in front of the camera in Kulob, reflecting their usual pastime before, and now for one last time, after a couple of jerks and thrusts, she agrees — but not letting her tears slip momentarily, in slow-mo and complete silence; the edgy atmosphere of Kung Paano Kita Liligawan nang ‘Di Kumakapit Sa Iyo? preoccupies everything by all means, the spiritual quest for purpose, telling us, that again, moving on is the most difficult thing to do in this world — these vignettes, including the ones that I failed to recall, make up a world painted with untainted love, and it pains me to realise that indeed, as much as it echoes Fassbinder’s first film, Love is colder than death.
Nothing could well prepare Torres for his first feature-length film than these short gems. Todo Todo Teros is the wind that shakes the barley, the penultimate Pinoy indie film, and if local cinema has its Bible, this, by all means, is its Genesis.
It is such a difficult film to review, for in every word there is liability to betrayal; for it is hard to come up with the right words — the proper words to exact its meaning — the right phraseology to express admiration, and it causes me great trouble, distress in fact, thinking how to say how beautiful I think it is without sounding highfalutin, without overusing adjectives and adverbs, without losing my sincerity and compromising exaggeration, which I admit I do most of the time — for in the misuse of words there is the danger of misleading my readers (a number that you could count using your fingers in both hands and feet) in thinking that this is just another film that I liked, that I found great — no, I tell you, this is more than being great, this is an experience, and it is truly therapeutic — and if you want a fitting metaphor, well, have you tried acupuncture?
This is what a destabiliser film looks like — carved by a brilliant sculptor, who longs to share his sufferings with everyone — yeah, John Torres loves to share, if that is not too obvious — no matter how bizarre, obtuse, magnified, rarefied, convoluting, hell out of logic: he speaks for us, he tells our maladies, and he cures us — Torres is Dr. Strangesoul, the doctor of our souls, of our sick souls. Aware of his stature in local cinema, he is one of the few storytellers who bravely defies cultural and filmic norms, using digital video as a tool of influence to dig the hole of apathy that continues to eat us, and with that, nothing is more noble: sublimity is the echo of a great soul.
During the discussion, I hesitantly asked Torres (in Filipino): In your films, when you share something with people you don’t know, do you feel that there is something taken away from you? Of course he said yes. Anyway I just wanted a confirmation. Any idea where I can catch Gabi Noong Sinabi ng Ama Kong May Anak Siya sa Labas and Voices, Tilted Screens, and Extended Scenes of Loneliness: Filipinos in High Definition? Come on, I need these pills.