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Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (2015)
Nestor Abrogena
1 hr. 30 or something

This post has spoilers because I need to talk about that clusterfuck of an ending.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa opens with Sam walking towards a train station. He takes a phone call and explains he is late. We find out he is a filmmaker, among other important details meant to fill us in on the life of an accomplished young man who is on his way to Berlin for some filmy thing we’re never really filled in on. Further in, he meets up with Isa as he is transferring from one train to the next. She explains that she is also late, she has an exam. Oddly enough, there seems to be no rush, and for the next ten minutes we watch them dawdle, dragging their feet, towards the next train.

Using transport as a backdrop for a relationship that’s going nowhere makes for a promising metaphor, and references to movies that have done the same (Two for the Road, Richard Linklater’s Before… series, Sa North Diversion Road, That Thing Called Tadhana) are peppered throughout Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa. There is a very clear debt to Before Sunrise, specifically: there it is onscreen in one of Sam’s classes.

What Ang Kwento… seems to neglect however is that these were films that coasted by on the strength and sheer delight of watching two very intelligent people talk, with love as the side effect. That’s not what this movie is. In Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, we have the opposite in that it is fucking painful to watch its characters attempt conversation–which is really strange considering that Sam is a filmmaker and Isa is a writer. But it’s painful and awkward and you wonder how these two even bother, but whatever. We’re already here! Here being this mess where Isa has a boyfriend named Frank who is abroad  (maybe?), but the point is this dude she was cuddling on the train with is not Frank. He is Sam (the filmmaker who can’t talk good). And Sam all throughout is trying to sit Isa down to talk about “the plan”. Like so: “So what’s the plan, Isa”

“I don’t know, I have to a) meet my groupmates, b) record this song, c) rewrite my script because it’s cheesy.” Heck, I thought the plan was to rush to school because she had an exam. Or something. Whatever, she’s avoiding him, we get it. I thought this whole time was that Isa’s plan was to take her midterms, but I guess not.

This happens throughout the day and into the night. We follow them around while they try to talk but end up not reallly talking. There are cases in which actions speak louder than words, and this…could be one of them. Actually, there are so many other vehicles which could have been used to unravel the messy narrative of Nestor Abrogena’s directorial debut: comic book, music video, photo essay. It is, after all, very beautifully shot. Instead we have this full-length feature that requires dialogue and gets awkward chit-chat for trying to convey that man, relationships are hard! Cheating on boyfriends is hard! Commuting is hard! Life is hard!

You know what else is hard, this film seems to say, writing a script for people who can’t improv to save their lives. When the narrative isn’t overburdened with the infidelity-induced anguish of these kids, it takes a stab at lightness by bringing in Luke – some smug asshole whose only job is to call everyone else in this movie an asshole–and Karen, who Luke is trying to either date-rape or charm into having sex with him despite repeatedly being rejected. I know this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not. It’s gross. And “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was written more than half a century ago, so this “he’s only being a jerk because he likes you,” needs to stop being packaged as rom-com fodder.

BUT WAIT, we soon find out that Luke is not the biggest jerk in this movie! And neither is Isa! The thing is, it took me two tries to get through Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa: the first time, I could only take an hour of its insufferable babbling, but I also wanted to understand the links between conversation and reason and the constant claims about how “real people” talk, especially with the current administration.

Then I read a review in which a plot twist THAT WILL BLOW MY FUCKING MIND was mentioned, and here it is (spoiler):












Sam is actually Isa’s professor. Or, Sam is also Isa’s professor.

So here’s the thing: we have a movie, we have several hours to justify this even messier side of the quandary in that YOU DO NOT DATE SOMEONE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO EVALUATE. It’s pretty fucking basic that allowing the personal and professional to intermingle that closely just adds up to some really fucked-up power play, and no amount of “love” or anguish that looks like love, or agony can fix that.

Unless, of course, you can talk your way through it (e.g. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”, “Apocalypse Child”, or “Sa North Diversion Road” again)?

The even bigger problem here is that despite there being other characters given screen time, specifically to lecture Sam on why this shit should stop, no one mentions that “Dude, maybe you should call it quits with this chick because SHE’S YOUR STUDENT.” First, ew. Second, we are instead led to believe that she’s the one with the problem. She’s the one who needs to make a plan, to clear shit up. This whole thing is packaged as “romance” because we’re supposed to find it ***AaaaaawwwwwW*** ˜ROMANTIC˜ when people (dudes, in particular) pull this against all odds bullshit rather than respecting someone’s space–especially if that someone is YOUR student (note: not A Student, Your Student, as in someone you will be giving a grade to). In that rather than see Isa as off-limits because she’s in this ethically compromised position, she is only off-limits because she “belongs” to someone else.

That, right there, is some serious Wattpadd-Twilight-50 Shades level toxicity packaged as noble infinite sadness wank, and despite having all the time to clarify or justify why these jerks keep being jerks, Abrogena fills the screen with establishing shots of Metro Manila (here is Makati CBD! Now here’s the Pasig River! Now Edsa! And now we are in…side Isa’s bedroom? What the fuck just happened, where the fuck are we?!). The rest of the film is Sam being sad: here he is being sad by the train tracks, now he’s sad while looking out over the balcony, now he’s sad while staring at himself in the bathroom…and before that, he’s really sad while looking at his laptop. What’s he even looking at? It’s a mystery…

From what I’ve read about this movie (from the little that is posted online) Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa began as a twenty-minute short, and to be fair, it works as a collection of scenes.

Strung together in an attempt at coherence however, the thread is lost, with cardboard cutouts fumbling through a story that unfolds over the course of one day and the following morning. This isn’t the kind of story that really needs to be told though, because it gets us nowhere, speaking only of messy people without revealing any of the inner complexity that makes them into actual human characters. These are pretty pictures though, but what a waste of film.

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