Post-movie thoughts: Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There)


(Written soon as I got home from the July 24 screening; forgotten on the iPad until I remembered it this evening.)

I just saw “Ang Nawawala”, an indie film directed by Marie Jamora. I went to see it because I sort of know Marie, in the way that anyone who has ever been in a band or connected to one knows Marie, but I’m not sure she knows me. Also, a bunch of my favorite bands are in it, and some friends of friends are in it, and I also saw Marie’s short film “Quezon City” years ago. If anyone can get me to watch their film, it’s her.

It was great. You can search the internet for reviews and everyone says it’s great. Someone called it “the movie of our generation”. The film made me think of several things. “500 Days of Summer” is one — a recent love story that was as whimsical as it was realistic. Both films share a lesson: Don’t fall for the cool girl — she’ll break your heart. It’s usually true for guys as well. Music plays a huge part in the love story between the two main characters, Gibson and Enid. There’s a scene where Gibson raises his cell phone up to let Enid hear a song by Ang Bandang Shirley, since she couldn’t make it to their set. Interestingly enough, I did that years ago — also with my cell phone up, also to Ang Bandang Shirley! While the love story in “Ang Nawawala” was cute and sweet, it’s not my favorite part of the film.

There was another film I saw years ago called “The Man Who Wasn’t There“, where Billy Bob Thornton spent most of the movie quietly observing the world around him. People didn’t mind him, or took advantage of him, but he stoically soldiered on. I’m not familiar with many of the actors in “Ang Nawawala,” but I thought Dominic Roco’s acting as the mute-by-choice Gibson was phenomenal. There are subtleties required in that kind of role, a fine line between acting too little and too much. Gibson only had his facial expressions to express himself. And even with all the drama happening around him, his poignant reactions were incredibly believable.

But my favorite part of the film was one scene. I was just having a discussion with my boyfriend yesterday about how film as a medium has changed. Everything’s so fast now, chopped up, action-packed, with exposition every two minutes. We discussed scenes that stood out, where actors acted with facial expressions, not lines — where actors acted like real human beings. My favorite scene in”Ang Nawawala” is the most powerful scene in the film for me, and if I still taught Narrative, I would teach it. In the scene, Gibson and his (dead) twin Jaime are smoking up in a cemetery. They’re passing the joint to each other, taking turns. You know they’re both thinking about Jaime’s death, and how Gibson blames himself. They start to tear up, quietly. Each time they puff, they cry a little bit more. And so continues a scene in absolute silence, where two brothers are crying more and more each turn, forgiving each other for transgressions past. Without words.

And that’s what makes this film great, for me. It’s not the great production design or the indie music or the funny one-liners that people will retweet. Those are all great. But it’s the conscious decisions that the director and writers made to tell a story visually that won me over. The scene in the cemetery. Dawn Zulueta as the mom, unhappiness and irritation all over her face in every single scene she’s in. At the start of the film, the shot of the empty chair on the dining table — you know someone has died. Enid, the love interest, changing her costume at the last minute — you know she’s changed her mind about Gibson. Film is a visual medium, the way games are an interactive medium. If we have more people like Marie Jamora, who know how to tell a story to the audience, not with explosions or OA drama but with visual, powerful moments like these — then I am happy.

I would very much like everyone to see this film, if only to try and understand what the younger generation’s voice would sound like. It’s fitting that you’ll hear the voice strongest with a character who chooses not to speak. “Gumigibson,” or “Gibson-ing” in awful English, is now a term I can use to describe how I usually am at social gatherings. I’m the one who sits quietly at a table, lost in thought. For the new term, and for a film that renewed my faith in good old-fashioned storytelling, thanks, Marie!

Tomorrow is the last screening day for “Ang Nawawala” (silly Luna; I should’ve posted earlier!). Please try to see it still!


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