From the get go, I was afraid I wasn't going to get Ang Nawawala. Films rooted deeply into a subculture, in this case the world of hipsters and their cameras, vinyl, indie music, and far-off and specialized tastes have a tendency of excluding people that don't belong to that world. Reading the reactions of people and early reviews made me afraid that I was going to be the only one in the audience that didn't get it. But that wasn't the case, at all. Yes, for certain, Ang Nawawala has the strong undertones of the hipster culture but it was inclusive, bringing you into the world and using it sharply to tell the story of a young man Gibson (Dominic Roco), who has not spoken for the past ten years after he saw his twin brother die, and the love that might bring him back to the land of the speaking.
Already, the movie asks for much from its audience. Gibson arrives to spend time with his family for the Christmas holidays. He came from the States but we are not exactly sure what he does there and how he manages to survive without saying a word. But quickly, the movie engages you with shades of his broken family and buys itself more time to play its larger than life premise, until the point when suspension of disbelief is achieved and we don't care anymore about the little details.
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There is a lot to work with. There is tension at home as his family seems to have not come unscathed by the events of his brother's passing ten years ago. There is the possibility of romance in the form of cool chick Enid, who he meets at a party and takes interest in the self-imposed mute. And then there's the fact that Gibson speaks to his twin brother, the only person he has a conversation with.
The movie is unapologetic in its sources but that is what makes it refreshing and honest. They are real people of that social class and mainframe. They speak in complete English sentences and collect vinyl records. They listen to indie music and go to places like Saguijo and Route 196. Enid drives her own car and Gibson lives in a big house with lots of maids. They have iPhones, which is pivotal for Gibson to communicate his thoughts and feelings to Enid through the Notes application. They drink, smoke pot, talk about music, and go to church with their families.
But the film isn't just a showcase of the life of a hipster. The culture resonates with the characters and the story-telling. Punctuated by silences and music, Ang Nawawala has its share of MTV moments when nothing is happening except Enid and Gibson watching a band play at some gig. But the songs say what Gibson cannot say. And it is this aspect that brings the couple together, kindred spirits drawn to the same kind of music. This becomes the playing field for three of its amazing romantic moments.Download the free Juice.ph Mobile App for iPhone and Android to get your daily dose of Juice on your mobile phone.
The first involves the two showing each other vinyl covers in a sale for records. The competition slowly turns into realization of each other's interests. And without speaking, through pop culture context and the visual clues from the album covers themselves, we see them have a conversation without any real dialogue.
The second involves playing a dubiously retro sounding record and mouthing the words (but not singing), we see Gibson lip-synch his feelings to the impressed Enid. The effect brings a smile to your face, very cleverly done and very precise.
The third is a moment when they trade headphones and then make out to the song they prepared for each other.
These moments would never happen outside of the hipster world and each scene is so well executed that it's a blessing to have them in our film landscape.
The interplay between silence and noise keeps bringing to mind that some things should be said, but are never said, and create even deeper meaning because of it.
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We are also lucky to be rooted by a strong cast. Roco is most effective not speaking, as he betrays the thoughts in his head with every eye movement or head tilt. His father and mother are played magnificently by Boboy Garrovillo and Dawn Zulueta. Garrovillo succeeds in creating a father who is trying to keep everything nice and neat but beneath is someone broken or sinking, desperately trying to keep afloat. Dawn Zulueta is everything in this movie. Her performance is understated, a quiet fire that is ready to explode but is restrained by years of pain and suffering.
I have a few caveats, the main one being Annicka Dolonius' portrayal of Enid. Without a doubt, Enid is a tough, hip chick and Dolonius embodies it well. But in her efforts to be cool, she went a little too far and became ice cold, which became problematic as her character had to be lovable. We had to fall in love with her as much as Gibson does, and while Dolonius is beautiful and edgy and probably every hipster's wet dream, she left me feeling cold.
I wish the dialogue was delivered more quickly, more naturally to properly fill the quiet moments with chatter and noise to counterpoint Gibson's silence... but that's nitpicking. I totally enjoyed watching a film that captures a part of Manila that is ignored or not properly presented in Philippine cinema. It doesn't fall into the trap of having to resolve everything but leaving us with all the necessary little hints of what will happen. It's doesn't feel the need to spell out everything for us. Like Gibson, the silent moments of the film and the story-telling reveals so much already. It's a totally smart film, because it doesn't dumb itself down for its audience. It's honest and sincere and is great step forward for Philippine cinema.
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