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Water Lemon (Lemuel Lorca, 2015) November 2, 2015

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Noypi, QCinema.
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waterlemon

Written by Lilit Reyes
Directed by Lemuel Lorca
Cast: Jun-jun Quintana, Tessie Tomas, Lou Veloso, Alessandra de Rossi, Meryll Soriano

The charm of Water Lemon, Lemuel Lorca’s fourth film and so far his most fully realized work, is its setting. Mauban in Quezon Province comes to life with an endearing depiction of its people and their constant preoccupations, which is far from the haphazard caricature in his previous film, Mauban: Ang Resiko. Lorca’s love for his hometown is unmistakable, and can easily be blinding for its earnest sentiment, but what works for Water Lemon is a narrative that captures a small, timid town generally content in its smallness and timidity, how its residents deal with everyday troubles and bouts of loneliness, whether through hardcore drinking or chatting with someone from faraway who offers emotional comfort.

Life in Mauban, as it turns out, is not always slow and passive. What often passes for conflict is the hovering uncertainty of being there, of staying because there are no better options, those moments, few and far between, when one gets weary and sick of provincial life. Idleness is a myth: people have to work not only to have food on the table but also to feel better about themselves. In many ways the audience is not treated as a tourist, and Mauban, though beautiful, doesn’t feel at all like an attraction.

It also looks at people who have long been wanting to leave, those who are sometimes judged for their ambition, to whom a better life means one that is spent outside the town’s simple, almost resigned, way of living. This idea of leaving, however, isn’t confined only to moving out of town. And this is where writer Lilit Reyes hits the spot: dying also means leaving. And dying, whether by accident or illness, always inflicts hurt on those who stay, also making them die little by little. The drama at the center of Water Lemon, aside from making room for intense and poignant scenes, creates this vivid portrait of a town that accepts its fate but also hits itself for merely accepting, a place seemingly isolated from the supreme comforts and vanities of modern world, a town that may be unworldly and unambitious but is now finally coming to terms with change.

Filemon, the heart and mouth of Water Lemon, has Asperger’s, but he is not suffering from it, at least not in the way he projects himself. He is stubborn and assertive, qualities that secure him from his tendencies. Although he dismisses a lot of people, avoiding intimacy even with his mother, he loses it upon being told he is fired. Having a work says so much about self-worth, and for someone conscious about being different, it can mean the world to him. The sound of that world crumbling provides the film its moving vulnerability.

But the drama also has a number of false notes, the most striking of which has to do with Bertha and Maritess, supporting characters whose high moments tend to be too affected. The same effect happens when Pina verbalizes her grief with a neighbor: the moment feels written, and the monologue draws too much attention to itself. These are glitches that create ripples, stories that may be based on real life but look ineffective in film, but Water Lemon, fortunately, flows into a large sea, and with exceptional performances of Jun-jun Quintana, Tessie Tomas, and Lou Veloso, the impression it leaves is quite immense.

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