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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

entry arrow12:54 AM | The One About a Film That Breaks Your Heart Very Nicely

The most wonderful thing about Dan Villegas' The Breakup Playlist (2015) is not the scintillating script, the assured pace and sense of structure in the narrative, the deft editing, the spot-on casting and the bravura performances, or the fluid cinematography, which should already make this a small phenomenon in a commercial cinema culture where money, and not craft, is the primary consideration. It’s not even the earnestness of its rose-colored love letter to OPM that gives the film an extra kick of wonder. It is that Mr. Villegas, fresh from the indie success of English Only, Please (2014), has apparently been courted by the soul-sucking temptations of mainstream filmmaking — in this case, the double whammy of Star Cinema and Viva Films — and did not lose his soul. So many of our best filmmakers have not been so lucky: with promising filmography behind them, they proceed to embrace the beast, perhaps hoping to tame it, but come away from the encounter having been regurgitated into hacks. Let’s not name names.

It seemed like Mr. Villegas took the gloss and polish that a bigger budget promised, and gave us a film that not only satisfied our romantic yearnings for films of this ilk, but also something that did not patronise. StarCinema, of course, has been the favourite whipping pole by many because, all too often, it has made a factory of films that merely pandered to the commonest taste in local cinema-going. But I agree with the notion that when a giant like this commercial entity does something right, it certainly deserves an applause. The films they’ve made that turned out right — Pare Ko, Radio Romance, Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa, Sana Maulit Muli, Kailangan Kita, Nine Mornings, One More Chance, My Big Love, Here Comes the Bride, Inside Job — have become such a rarity, that I am ready to celebrate their dipping their toes into occasional brilliance.

And The Breakup Playlist is brilliant. In every scene that unfolds in his new film — apparently already a killer at the box office — you can see every single effort Mr. Villegas (also acting as his own cinematographer) has done in the name of making a good film. He has the eye, and the taste, for it. Consider the meticulous attention he gives the colour that shades his characters’ faces. Consider the dexterity with which he handles the tricky nature of flashbacks. And even in scenes that are not perfectly staged — like the final streetside confrontation between the warring protagonists — he provides an emotional coda that seem calculated to both wring our hearts as well as surprise us. That same streetside scene I’ve mentioned ends with Piolo Pascual’s Gino left bereft on the sidewalk in a teary breakdown that startles with such truthfulness, you had to agree: “Papa P. still has it. In spades.”

For it is also truly an actor’s showcase. And in this one, we see both Mr. Pascual and Ms. Sarah Geronimo taking stock of familiar roles in a romantic drama but pushing them even more towards a rare balance of cutesy and grit. (Apparently that’s possible.) What is the story? Trixie, a greenhorn singer/composer played by Ms. Geronimo, catches the roving eye of Mr. Pascual’s Gino, a fast-rising musician eager to break the mold of being a phenomenon of so-called pogi rock. She wants to be a lawyer to please her parents, he wants her to be his co-lead singer in Pencil Grip, the new band he is putting together. The dynamics of that tension and ultimate decision/plot point, even as played out with Mr. Dennis Padilla and Ms. Rio Locsin who play Ms. Geronimo’s disapproving parents, gently brings in a very common dilemma among many Filipino families that echoes an old line from a classic Paz Marquez Benitez story: “Did you ever have to choose between something you wanted and something you needed to do?” That I cite a literary source to bolster one of the themes of this film is indicative of its intelligence in following through many of its themes: the pursuit of passion, the fulfilment of your family’s hopes, the fact that the beginnings of love is deaf and agrees to everything. That last note should remind us that beyond the familial dramas and the musical mix that Breakup embraces in its narrative, the film is foremost a love story. More than that, it is the full examination of a love affair, from its kilig beginnings (that inspired courtship scene in the CD shop…) to its heartbreaking end (that stinging argument in the car…). Both Mr. Pascual and Ms. Geronimo prove equal to the demands of that arc, and bring in a fierceness to their roles that should also remind us that movies like this — because they are perceived to be lightweight — need very strong actors to anchor and provide the necessary gravity to the formulaic sentimentality. I don’t want to be reminded again of Angelica Panganiban’s antics in Antoinette Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana, where her bizarre choices sank an otherwise perfectly fine film. Ms. Jadaone, perhaps the fastest rising screenwriter working in Philippine cinema today, also wrote The Breakup Playlist and English Only, Please.

She deserves kudos and mention for the sound structure she has made of this story, and for the intelligence and dexterity with which she has done her appropriations of cultural milestones in romantic cinema. She has taken the musicality and the unfulfilled promise of Quark Henares’ Rakenrol (2012), mixed it with the jealous subterfuge of George Cukor’s A Star is Born (1954), and leavened the entire enterprise with nods to Stephen Frears' High Fidelity (2000) for the conceit of lists, Richard Curtis' Love, Actually (2003) for the idea of signs as love confession, and Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988) for the knowledge of alchemy that comes with the final grand gesture — and out comes a fully realised and still very original Filipino love story for our times. One that makes us believe in falling in love and forgiveness once again. One that makes us thirsty for the OPM of yore. One that makes us realize a local film can indeed capture a part of the Filipino zeitgeist, and do it extremely well.

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