Sleepless (Prime Cruz, 2015) October 30, 2015Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Noypi, QCinema.
Written by Jen Chuaunsu
Directed by Prime Cruz
Cast: Glaiza de Castro, Dominic Roco, TJ Trinidad, Irma Adlawan
Romance, whether in fiction or real life, has always been a major currency: love, more than anything, is both the motivation and reward, the logic and instinct. But the kind of love often emphasized, aspired, and admired in cinema is romantic: a strong force that can make grand, sweeping gestures, the overall effect of which, whether lounging in subtlety or excesses, determines the merits, or ineffectiveness, of a film. Love stories will never lose their relevance — the material lends itself to infinite permutations — and those that make a precisely memorable impression usually have something to say beyond the intensity of the feeling.
In Sleepless, in what seems to be the film’s riskiest undertaking, the main characters are not in love with each other. They meet at work, become friends, and eventually find their lives at a standstill because of the unpleasant consequences of their respective relationships. They take comfort in each other. Even towards the end writer Jen Chuaunsu and director Prime Cruz are not keen on “shipping” them, and it is by virtue of this companionship, essentially carrying the weight and implication of romance, that Sleepless unfolds its simple, seemingly slight story against the backdrop of cutthroat corporate work in the Third World.
It is interesting not because it does not pursue the romance but because it does not seek to be validated by it. The reason for Gem’s sleeping problem at the beginning is the nature of her work, but later on, as she finds a meaningful companion in Barry, it becomes a habit formed out of fulfillment gained from it, how the physical distress is compensated by emotional gratification. The foundation of the film is their contact, and it develops into a friendship defined by circumstances, the way they deal with their own troublesome family relations and failed romances while trying to be there for one another, without taking advantage of the convenience coming from their vulnerability. Over time the characters become stronger than the plot points, and the small moments, no matter how predictable, manage to ignite fireworks.
Although Sleepless shares obvious similarities with Shift by Siege Ledesma and Ang Nawawala by Marie Jamora, particularly in terms of milieu and treatment, a worthier comparison can also be made with Endo by Jade Castro, with how employment is a crucial part of a person’s life decisions. The call center environment as a workplace is never substantially explored, but it is presented in such a way that neither glorifies nor condescends to its culture, acknowledging the industry that has been the country’s main economic growth source for more than a decade. As call center agents, Gem and Barry go on with their day-to-day lives the way other workers, who are regarded presumably with higher respect, do, yearning for similar needs and hoping to be in better situations. What makes Sleepless current is this scaffold — the grave importance of being employed, and the submission to the pleasures and sorrows of work — with recognition of things being temporary as nothing but natural. The city shown in its locations is also a curious element: it is neither highly developed nor visibly struggling, neither happy nor sad, a city presented not as a character but as a spectator, the way places, despite the tendency to sentimentalize them, in fact do not really care about people.
Nothing in Sleepless is new or groundbreaking, and this prevailing mindset to offer novelty, to engage in some sort of activity proving the worthiness of creation, has been around only to challenge perceptions. The use of animation in a few sequences may have been disagreeable to some, but one can see it as a means to break the monotony, to render foolishness in the context of boredom, which actually provides nuance to the characters and stirs the surface. Sleepless has a rich undercurrent that can easily be overlooked, either out of being too meek or unresisting, but in truth it speaks eloquently of the tiny tragedies of every day, of the slacker’s desperation to finally be on the right track after so many attempts, and of how some people escape solitude and look for souls to cling to. The lonely will always stay lonely, and every friendship they find is a love story living a common life and dying a common death.