Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (Nestor Abrogena, 2016)

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“What’s the plan?” That was the immediate question Sam (Nicco Manalo) got from his close friend after he learned late that Sam had entangled himself  in a complicated relationship.
The question was stressful, insistent, urgent, and had a little exasperated ring to it, probably due to the friend’s surprise. But even the simplest of romantic loves couldn’t be that easy to explain, isn’t structured the same way we compose formal essays to pull up easily an answer to such similar questions as if there was an outline, as if the processing were as accessible as plucking a strand from an abundance of body hairs. This type of love’s the one wired to multiple brain neurons and dependent on those unpredictable surges of hormones and complex appetites, that to control oneself of its after-effects could be crazily difficult. But Sam looked ‘composed’ and reacted ‘well’ that time when his friend gave him some bromantic spanking, asking where had his crazy head gone to to get into such a stupid situation. Sam retorted with a fuck you in jest. He must have subconsciously meant it: who the hell are you man you fucking don’t know what I’m feeling!

But that was just my thought. There was not a single scene where you’d hear and see any character burst out and break down like in a lot of the romance dramas in the past. In Nestor Abrogena’s Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, hysterical moments were absent. There were seesaws of what looked like petty disagreements–in one long take, and we would’ve been lucky to hear screaks. Silences occupied voluminous spaces here. As the plot was lean, it couldn’t be just that without pulling out something big in the end, that secret which was an editing success, and was our worthy reward for staying patient.

Things unfolded slowly so it took time to understand why the couple Isa and Sam acted with limitations, Isa (Emmanuele Vera) using more tact, a little apathetic and insensitive to Sam in school–because her boyfriend Frank (gasp) also studies there.

But when Isa and Sam were outside the college walls, they shared a cup of gulaman and a small tray of siomai. She slept resting on his shoulders inside the LRT train. They held hands. Flirted. And they got me more interested in them after they shared a journal-book by Kurt Cobain. Isa mentioned about borrowing a guitar, and seeing her hold and play it I thought damn that might be a Hole song she’d do a cover of. To my dismay it was some ballad which she sang instead.

It initially felt like the girl was just using the guy, Sam who was presented as intellectually superior, having been admitted to some film-related seminar or scholarship in Berlin. But as soon as we learned that Isa had prepared a gift for him, a John  Mayer vinyl record, and when they were finally both in Isa’s room, she was sparse in speech but the warmth and sorrow in her littlest body movements were loaded with tenderness, we became convinced that she had some deep feelings for him too.

The milieu they moved around was an unfamiliar place for me, somewhere I’m not so excited to be a part of because it smacked of elitism. Wow for a school in a highrise building with those curtain glass walls with a majestic view of the skyline. It was a privileged world, a little too modern and American for my third world country taste, it somehow put me off. The blues and grays, the concrete, the steel and the glass materials in different combinations and design schemes in schools, in trains, and in waiting stations, despite the signages of popular avenues like Katipunan or that shot with Isetann Recto in the background, they made me feel displaced. My eyes longed for the bright bright sunlight, for some Pinoy religious icons on some wall, for some rusty roofing with an old limp tire lying on it. My instinct to affiliate myself with an impoverished location grew more intense in time as the movie played. Not the film’s fault though. It must be trying hard to be different, saying goodbye to the visual template of poverty porn. (That silhouette of the two lovers seated opposite each other in the school cafeteria symbolized their ‘clandestine’ relationship. It could be a frame-homage to Transit by Hannah Espiah.) In fact, the director’s skill, the nuanced performances, and the polished cinematography made this romance drama look authentic, I think. That it made me imagine and ask myself how lovers from the poorest of the poor handle such a similar situation, on top of the nagging aches of the different parts of their bodies which are symptomatic of their struggles to live. Do they have the time to wallow for these types of pains or even realize how complicated it is they’re in when there is so much chaos and cries of hunger inside their heads and in their midst?


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