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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, 2008

Posted 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.



1. bittergrace - January 26, 2008

oh, that was a month ago na? ang bilis ng oras. of the three i loved “Paano Kita Liligawan Nang ‘Di Kumakapit Sa Iyo?” the most. wala lang :)

2. lilokpelikula - January 26, 2008

yeah — if I guess it right, we saw it last January 2. parang kelan lang no. haha.

i also love it the most, but Salat for me is the most memorable, esoecially that scene with her ex. great translation too: How Can I Court You Without Ever Holding You?

and this is funny: “Paano tayo makakabuo kung hindi ako papatong sa iyo?” -Lego

weird thing i remember these things. they are fossiled already.

3. ilayaonline - January 27, 2008

sayang nag-backout ako :( sana may next time. peborits ko talaga mga kwentong-pag-ibig.

4. lilokpelikula - January 28, 2008

may susunod pa yan! haha gusto ko naman ang mga pelikulang may mga hopeless-romantic na characters. :D

5. Oggs Cruz - January 28, 2008

As always, I’m severely envious for not seeing this. A friend of mine is actually peddling John Torres’ DVD of his shorts, way before Todo Todo Teros, and I didn’t grab the opportunity to spend something like 500pesos to buy it. Now, I’m missing out. There’s this other story of me trying to save 75pesos by not buying Lav Diaz’s Hesus Rebolusyonaryo VCD, and now that VCD is nowhere to be found.

6. lilokpelikula - January 28, 2008

At least you’ve seen Voices — which for me is the biggest mistake I made last year. Damn self! Anyway, I think before John went to Berlin, he was selling DVD copies of Otros, for 150 pesos only, to help him with the expenses. I wonder if they are still available. And also — we share stories similar to what you mentioned — and helter-skelter, that always happens to me — but most of the time with books. And hell, I can’t find that Langis at Tubig VCD too — saw it several years ago, and now, lost, missing, misplaced, buried, whatever.

7. Alexwebmaster - March 3, 2009

Hello webmaster
I would like to share with you a link to your site
write me here preonrelt@mail.ru

8. solongtinik - August 25, 2009

was at vocas when john had his filmviewing of the otros..it was really great! my frist time also to witness such event. hope we have more of that kind in baguio

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