Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me (Erick Salud)

Star-crossed lovers.

Its themes jumbled; its central love story a baffling one; its ultimate pay-off rather anticlimactic. But despite of those, Director Erick Salud's cinematic interpretation of "Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me", based on the book of the same name by Eros S. Atalia which I've immensely enjoyed despite of its peculiar and overly ambitious perspective, is quite successful on how it has portrayed the emotional confusion brought about by the blurring of the fine line that separates hedonistic sex and real love.

First and foremost, the film is a comedy which laughs at the idea of how an average-looking lad was able to indulge in a sexual escapade commonly reserved for the Adonis types. Secondly, it is a drama of realization which, after its initial pokes on the ribs, then attempts to reach out for your heart asking for you to understand. It really is a film which is quite difficult to describe save for the safe labeling of it being a film about 'postmodern' romance. Jessica Zafra once stated in one of her 'Twisted' books that to be able to save face, it is a particular last resort to label films that you don't understand as 'postmodern'. That particularly works with "Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me", but the catch is, it actually is one.

Combining the sexual compulsiveness of Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris", a great example of a film that has veered away from the usual cinematic norms about romance and sexuality, and "Annie Hall's" non-linear, fourth wall-breaking and animation-interjecting exploration of a moody love affair, "Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me" has finely captured the first's raw sexuality and the latter's moodiness to create a romantic story that really isn't. Quite an anomaly, but I think this is how the film wants itself to be perceived. If the source material wants to be seen more as an experimental merging of existential and pseudo-romantic bits with social commentary and surrealism, the film evokes love but at the same time repels the very idea, and at its very center, flawed and all, is a character nicknamed Intoy but whose real name, Karl Vladimir Lennon G. Villalobos, may suggest that he may be fathered by a weed-loving social extremist.

An ordinary college student both in looks and academic standing, Intoy is your perennial representation of an everyman. But along came Jen: a beautiful yet very moody and puzzling woman who has immediately swept Intoy's feet and has also reawakened his stirring carnality with a subtle inner thump, all at the same breath. And with not much introductions necessary, they have suddenly agreed to engage in a strictly sexual relationship within the 'per hour' confines of a seedy motel room (well, aren't they all?). Was it sexual curiosity or a simple call of the flesh? Or was it a sexually deconstructed love at first sight?

Edgar Allan Guzman, who plays Intoy, is very good not just because of the rather strong material already at hand but also on how he was able enough to keep up with the film's pace and his character's weird voice-overs with an eager energy but still leaves enough space for genuine emotional range. In fact, his character is trickier to pull off compared to Mercedes Cabral's Jen because with Intoy's character being your average Juan, it's easier for him to just recede in the background in favor of her more imposing and enigmatic presence.

Instead, they have balanced each other out and Mercedes Cabral, ironically quite the shoo in, physically, for characters that physically embody the average Filipina both in looks and manners, was surprisingly very believable as a confused and moody sexual nymph who effortlessly charms men to the point of drooling. Although at first her performance is quite, should I say, uneasy to watch because Ms. Cabral is oh so playing against type that it's quite difficult and unconvincing to see her as someone as sex-craving as Jen, her portrayal is one of those performances that slowly grows on you and, as the film progresses, becomes quite a joy to watch.

"Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me", with its strict focus to the on and off relationship between the two central characters, still gave enough thought to its screenplay (by Jerry Gracio) to capture some of the novel's witty dialogues that range from trivial discourses about the feline content of a 'siopao' to the more satiric mentions of religion. It is indeed the best film adaptation that we can get out of the Eros S. Atalia novel, but if I have a major complaint about it, I think it is the fact that the cinematography lacks enough visual composure to create a truly fitting emotional atmosphere that could have enhanced the whole film. 


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