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Ang Ninanais (John Torres, 2010) September 2, 2010

Posted 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.



1. Ayn Marie Dimaya - September 3, 2010

ooh, san mo pinanood at di mo ako sinama? lol, but really, may screenings pa ba?

2. ilayaonline - September 3, 2010

sa UP ata ito tama? yung sponsored by up cinema? gusto ko rin mapanood. :(

3. Epoy - September 4, 2010

Nice review Richard! I saw you in the UP screening of Ang Ninanais. haha.

Really, this film is something that is like my personal experience yet it has never happened before. This has been my first Torres to watch, it is memorable.

4. Richard Bolisay - September 4, 2010

ayn! sorry huhu. tonet! yep, up cinema.

paging john torres, screenings pa raw!

uy epoy, you should’ve said hi. i don’t bite. :)

5. yersky - September 4, 2010

hi chard, nakuha ang atensiyon ko nito:

“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.”

interesanteng punto, pero hindi ko pa matiyak kung anong iisipin ko tungkol dito. bilang unang tanong siguro, anong katangian mayroon ang voice para maging hindi na lang ito voice-over kundi karakter (na hiwalay pa rin sa may-ari ng voice na ito na karakter din, sabihin nating ang pangunahing tauhan din ang narrator)?

Paano ito eksaktong matutukoy kung sakali o hindi ba lagi’t laging magiging subjective ang pagdama ng “sincerity and fake sincerity at the same time” kaya mahirap pag-usapan ang isyu ng sinseridad sa tinig?

6. Richard Bolisay - September 4, 2010

hello ayer,

katangian ng boses. halos lahat kasi ng pelikula ni john may voice-over. isa yun sa mga madalas niyang gawin, kaya itinuturing na napakapersonal ng mga gawa niya. may namumukod-tanging tunog yung boses niya. malambot na malambing na sinsero na mabola na malalim na mababaw. kapansin-pansin, umuukit, tumatagos. kaya siguro umiigpaw na siya sa kalimitang papel ng voice-over na maglahad. yung vo ni john nagiging karakter, nagiging tauhan ng kuwento, bida. sabihin na lang natin na dito naka-angkla ang istorya, partikular na sa una at ikalawang pelikula ni john.

sa sinseridad, well, syempre subjective talaga. palagay ko lang yun. malaki ang posibilidad na mali ako, pero yun yung naramdaman ko habang nanonood ng palabas. na laging may kalakip na kasalungat ang bawat katapatan. parang ganun. labo. haha.

naniniwala akong may sinseridad sa tinig ni john (bilang filmmaker at bilang kaibigan) likha marahil ng ilusyon ng kanyang sining, o sa puntong ito, ng kanyang mga tula at talinghaga. pero sa “ang ninanais” medyo nahirapan akong makumbinsi.

beer na lang! ang hirap magpaliwanag e. haha.

7. yersky - September 5, 2010

ayuz! beer na! salamat, chard.

8. Noel Vera - September 6, 2010

Good stuff, man, even if I don’t hundred percent agree–I think the images are at least as interesting as his voice. I like the Neil Young.

9. tarantadoworld - November 3, 2010

” In the end we will reject a revolution and arrive at love.”

10. putrizk - January 12, 2011

it’s a nice narrative with a lot of sincerity and loyalty. Like a trade of some dramatization ended in a pretty work of art.

4/5 stars

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