Ang Ninanais (John Torres, 2010) September 2, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi, UP Screening.
English title: Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song
Written and directed by John Torres
Cast: Ciriaco Gibraltar, Tope Grabato, Che Villanueva
They say only love can break your heart and John Torres’ new film, Ang Ninanais, breaks my heart just a bit. After a string of shorts, a groundbreaking debut, and a waywardly balky follow-up, John is still doing what he does best, pulling the audience to his daydreams and lulling them by whispering words of love. Love, because John is the minstrel of love. You know the story of the guy who drove to Lonesome Town to find his heart, lived there for years, and got his heart back? That’s him. Every now and then, you would be reminded of that. His films stand out because of that experience—because what’s the point of a John Torres film if he wouldn’t be so intimate, if he wouldn’t tell an experience with a touch of quirk, if he wouldn’t choose his words like a troubadour does, if he wouldn’t indulge in figures of speech, or if he would. . . well, use a tripod.
The camera, as Alexandre Astruc posits, functions like a pen to paper. The filmmaker must not be hindered by traditional storytelling. His freedom, as far as artistic merits are concerned, is limitless. In John’s case, there is more ink in the pen than the paper can allow. He decides to tell the story the moment he realizes he already ran out of something to write on, and that’s where, I suppose, I feel a little uncomfortable. I think when people say that Ang Ninanais is original and personal, it doesn’t put the film in any positive light. Worse, it only gives an impression of distance, tastefulness, and luxury; which only makes it, among his other films, a sheltered work, and less inviting regardless of praises (although to be honest, I believe that’s not much of John’s concern).
As a follower of his works, I never yearn for “maturity”. I just want the poetry to bleed, the indulgence to flourish, and the innocence to reign supreme. There is always compromise, especially how it’s not the usual moviegoing experience, but the voice outweighs the difficulty, the ambivalence. The voice captures what other narrations cannot; that is, sincerity and fake sincerity at the same time. You no longer refer to it as a voice-over—it has, in fact, turned into a character. You follow it, you listen to it, you believe in it. John’s voice is something you easily recognize in silence, because you know he just hangs around with a hand over his mouth, waiting for the perfect moment to speak.
What saddens me upon seeing Ang Ninanais is that the maudlin confession finally gives way to the cryptic profession. John continues breaking bad and adorns his narrative—complicates it, in other words—which makes the film feel like a cousin of Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Huling Balyan ng Buhi, the way the myth overrides the “functional” storytelling, a disorientating device but one that fulfills the objective of the film: sharing a long forgotten culture with an audience whose memory, ironically, is that of a goldfish. John is no longer telling about himself, or his girlfriend, or his childhood, or his musings on the mundane. Here we have the stretch of ambition, and here lies the protest of words.
Truth be told, they are some of the most beautiful lines that John has ever written. For instance:
Do not look for us in history or in books written by victors. They are exact and precise; we are uneventful and in between.
Do not look for our story in myths, apparitions, legends filling the gaps. They are bridges; we stretch and fall. Listen to our faces; don’t take our words. Our romance lies at the timbre of our voices.
In the end we will reject a revolution and arrive at love.
Yes, the words cut through like a hot knife through butter. But upon hearing them and watching the images on screen, they just float around, knocking on my ears. It may be attributed to the subject, how I know it’s personal to John yet it also seems that he is striving to connect it with other themes, to highlight nuances with the least effort. But in the end everything comes out rather pale. I think when John does that, when he tries to cover unfamiliar grounds, when he grasps things beyond his understanding, and when he marries them with his own, I could see some strings that distract me. Instead of wallowing in its warmth, I feel a little cold and ignored, like something is going on without my knowledge, and I have to reset whatever thoughts I had on the film. The last thing I would want myself to feel upon seeing any of John’s works is being left out, realizing afterward how things will be spoiled by explaining, and by asking “what does that mean?” and all those buzzkill why’s. As I brave the pouring rain outside Cine Adarna, after saying hi to John and at the back of my head deeply wanting to ask him something, Neil Young continues to sing in my head, “I have a friend I’ve never seen / He hides his head inside a dream / Yes, only love can break your heart / Yes, only love can break your heart.” A minute later I am wondering why melancholia was dismissed.