Sep 17, 2012

[Movies] Ang Nawawala (2012)

At times I can never truly determine how much credit I can give the Cinemalaya film festival a chance whenever it comes along every year. I guess you can call me rather jaded when it comes to local movies, even those that manage to get into this particular festival.

But given enough time, the good stuff float to the surface and more recently we've seen these indie movies get a wider release cycle among local movies outside the festival, which is definitely a good thing.

And this is precisely why I managed to watch Ang Nawawala this weekend. I had heard good things about it during the festival period itself but never found the time to go see it. And while not all theaters are showing it now, fortunately Gateway tends to participate in these distribution ventures more often than not. 

It was thanks to Gateway that we got to watch The Hurt Locker before everyone realized the movie existed post-Oscars. But I digress.

Synopsis: Ang Nawawala (What Isn't There) is a 2012 indepedent drama movie written and directed by Maria Jamora along with screenwriter Ramon De Veyra. The film also won Best Original Score at the Cinemalaya Film Festival.

Gibson (Dominic Roco) has just returned home for the holidays after three years studying abroad. And things aren't quite okay at home given the obvious tensions between his father (Boboy Garrovilla) and his mother (Dawn Zulueta), his sister Corey's (Jenny Jamora) new beau and other unspoken tensions. But more than that, Gibson also does not speak and has not done so for quite some time. He is not mute or deaf. He simply does not speak.

The main reason he has "gone mute" is the fact that he had witnessed the death of his twin brother 10 years ago. But to compound things, Gibson does actually speak, at least when he's completely alone. Or at least alone with his dead brother Jamie (Felix Roco) - or some imagined version of him at least. Outside his family, he finds his childhood friend Teddy (Alchris Galura) trying to reconnect with him along with his circle of friends - and ultimately one Enid del Mundo (Annicka Dolonius) who sees something more in young Gibson.

Now I'll admit that my initial reaction to the movie was that it was an odd rip-off of (500) Days of Summer. Just think about it. Endearing boy meets very quirky and unusual girl. Romance develops over the course of the movie to a variety of local indie songs and odd and very old kundiman. And in place of imagined choreographed group dance numbers you get Gibson's imagined brother. Thus the main reasons I draw significant parallels between the two movies.

Dominic Roco does a pretty stellar job in his quirky, mostly silent role. He projects pretty well and is able to convey feelings that are both endearing and adorable or on the flip side brooding and deep in thought. It actually becomes quite surprising when he does end up speaking again during his scenes with his dead brother since you get so used to him being completely silent.

Annicka Dolonius is an interesting contrast for Dominic and a fitting enough love interest for a self-imposed mute, supposedly 20 year old guy. But at the same time it's almost impossible to shake off the feeling that she's trying (whether consciously or not) to channel Zooey Deschanel. As a character, she makes me want to throw something at the screen. She's your perfectly constructed hipster quirky girl. She has quirk fashion with her mixed funky dresses and combat boots. She's into vintage LP albums yet has Hello Kitty headphones. She drives a tiny car while Gibson does not have a vehicle. And so on and so forth.

The movie is your classic artsy piece - the kind that makes you want to watch it a few times in order to pick it apart and determine what additional meaning was hidden in all the sequences. Why did Dawn Zulueta have to stare off into the distance just then? Why did she decide to avoid giving toys to her youngest daughter? Why did they choose that song at that particular moment in time? How does a mute guy get a regular supply of drugs? Why switch to a kundiman as the background song now instead of another indie rock song?

The movie does a lot to depict, to a limited degree, the local music scene and the type of people that I see hanging out at places like Saguijo and Cubao Expo. Yes, they're the ones we end up calling hipsters because of their funky way of dressing, their taste for very old or very rare music, and all those other things. Thus you have Gibson using one of those iPhone cases that make his mobile look like an old cassette tape.  Or you have the two of them dressing up as characters from Twin Peaks. Thus we learn that to be a hipster in this country, you need to come from a more well-to-do family in order to pay for your alternative interests. I jest. But not really.

Still, despite the hipsterness and the odd mistakes in room design (e.g. the old room shared by the twins had a Michael Bay movie version of Bumblebee and the 20th anniversary re-release of Optimus Prime still in box), it's quite the enjoyable romp. At its core the movie has a good story to tell, a great soundtrack to add life color to the whole thing and a number of central mysteries that you look forward to unraveling by the end of the movie. Compared to most indie flicks, it does have a respectably decent ending that feels like things generally got resolved, at least for me. And I only say this since a friend of mine recently quipped that most indie movies seem to prefer leaving their stories a tad too open-ended.

Oh, and one minor rant: for a Filipino that was mostly in English, I don't see why they had to show it with English subtitles even for the English dialog. That's just silly.

Ang Nawawala is a good start for more respectable movies in the future, provided filmmakers manage to break into wider, more conventional cinema instead of just relying solely on these film festivals. Thus I rate the movie 4 faux-artsy video clips that Gibson takes out of a possible 5.

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  1. Wow! Ang taas ng rating mo sa movie na ito ah. Mapanood nga :)

  2. Parang mas maraming kilalang artista dito compared with other indie films. I might watch it one of these days given the high rating you gave.:)

  3. This one looks promising. The story lines are nice and the plots are interesting. Independent movies are most of the time the most crafted ones.

  4. This one sounds esoteric. It was hard for me to choose which one to watch this week. This was one of my choices, but I ended up watching another.

  5. Wow. This looks interesting! Nice review that you've got there. It's really piquing my curiosity :))

  6. A lot of them mean well - I just find at times that some indie flicks sort of try too hard in the crafting department. But this one came along pretty nicely.

  7. Yeah I saw your Bwakaw review - I'm now not sure whether to go see it or not, haha

  8. Hope you a chance to watch the movie to satisfy that itch!

  9. INDIE films are interesting to watch, very natural and realistic. No more additional effects, just actual circumstances that make them FREE VERSE like a poem....

  10. I'm planning to watch this movie after bumping alot of good reviews about it. ^_^

  11. I hated 500 Days of Summer, so if this indie flick channels it..well, I kinda lost interest to see it. Haha. Like you, I'm also jaded when it comes to Pinoy movies; and so I only plan to see indie films that are talked about (saves time and money. haha.). But if I get a copy, why not? Seems worth checking out. :)

  12. Wow - 500 Days hates are a rare breed. But yeah, you may be better off steering clear of this one then.

  13. Free verse - I like that analogy. It also sort of fits how sometimes you just get the movie and other times it makes no sense to you whatsoever.

  14. Hey go for it! It'll be tricky to find a copy at this point though.