28 Apr 2022
Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan
Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan
Audrey Alquiroz, Marijoy Cacho, Bruce Venida
A hazy, poetic story about performing emotions, and finding something genuine beneath the facade.
The film opens with choral music and quick-change images of the cosmos. “Pray to the moon,” a voice tells us, for it controls the tides and the waters of the world, including our tears. We are beholden to the universe, and all inter-connected to the point where the movement of the planets is as meaningful as the movement of our bodies.
The effects here are cool and crisp, interchanging the soft-lit images of nature and waves with broad-scope shots of the heavens. The message is succinctly communicated by a particularly effective shot of the earth dropping, becoming a tear in descent and splashing into water.
The voices we hear are those of a mother and daughter, who are in the business of mourning. An unusual profession, yet one in demand enough to be passed from one generation to the next. Mourners such as them can be hired for funerals to perform grief and effect the idea that the deceased are more beloved than they actually were.
The two sit across from each other, and comically stretch their eyes open to force tears to flow. The mother demands something more authentic from her, unsatisfied with her unconvincingly timid wails. The suggestion that, instead of all this training, she could simply apply Vicks VapoRub to her eyes to bring tears, is quickly dismissed. Immediately following the explanation that it’s all fake, her mother objects to this as cheating. The internal contradiction of this is lost on her, believing their profession to be noble despite its falsity.
The funeral is shot beautifully, with the misty light coming through the detailed windows. This cloudy, overcast quality is reflective of the slightly unreal performance of its characters, taking on a surreal or dreamlike appearance. After doing their time at the casket, the two stand outside and eat bananas. Their faces are suddenly cold and unfeeling, although the daughter looks at her mother curiously, wondering how she can conjure such pain and then immediately let it go.
After having watched her mother, she now joins in at the next funeral. The group of professional grievers outside apply makeup in a line, as though backstage before a big show. Complementing this, she applies the VapoRub much like they did their makeup. In a particularly startling shot, she is framed by a neon crucifix in the background. The contrived, plastic light emanating from it undermines any genuine projection of divinity, just as she constructs and contorts emotion like a mask.
However, this choice of forced sadness is apparently a step too far, as when noticing what she has done, her mother breaks the illusion by slapping her and chasing her outside. Disillusioned by this environment of pressure, she leaves to seek answers and finds a spiritual guide to help rediscover some genuine feeling. Stood on the beach, she is more spiritually connected to nature and to the water from which she has been detached. Here, the misty sunlight is even more powerfully saturated, becoming almost psychedelic at moments. We are drawn into the meditative haze along with her as she reflects on the trauma that has led her to bury her grief.
The constant lapping of the waves reminds us of the presence of nature, and the moon’s influence, moving water toward her. She was six years old when she last cried, when her father passed away. Without being able to process her own grief, there is no hope that she could express it for others. Instead she is caught in a cycle of forcing acute sadness until it becomes banal.
The intense sunlight grows as she reaches something of an epiphany, revealing the feelings she has been unable to experience. Telling her story, she begins to cry, and with her tears, she is drawn closer to the ocean. Leaning forward at an impossible angle, the introduction of more surreal movement leads to a return of the more expressionistic images of the film’s opening. The tears pulled from the sky are returned to her, and in the closing credits we see tears floating in the cosmos again, finding some balance personally and universally.