Starting over again, the way movies were

(UPDATED) ERNEST Hemingway told aspiring writers, and I suppose filmmakers too, “Show it, don’t tell it.” Fitzgerald did it that way, so did Cather, so did others both contemporary with and succeeding Hemingway. In movies, this style of showing instead of narrating suddenly appeared. I can’t think with which film it started or finally took off as the way to make a movie.

“Show it, don’t tell it.” But most stories, even famous ones by say Victorian writers, do tell their stories; and many contemporary writers do it still, some handling very modern themes. Hemingway’s advice seems to have been forgotten perhaps all for the better.

But movies once mostly told the story rather more than showed it happening. Sure plots unfolded but they were greatly moved along with words of explanation. Filipino movies seemed stuck in the narrative mold and then, imitating new thrillers, they went European, which is to say sparing with speech, and showed the story happening instead. It would be the audience’s problem to understand the movie; and the filmmakers’ challenge was help with the comprehension with a variety of devices, like flashbacks.

Well, Starting Over Again is in the old mold of telling a story while showing it unfolding as well. This is a remarkable achievement for being so dangerously retrograde. It is to the credit of both those who wrote the lines and those who spoke them so well that it is pulled off with perfection; without a single false or awkward instant.

I don’t recall the names of the scriptwriters or of the director but Piolo Pascual, Toni Gonzaga and Iza Calzado speak the lines, and tell the story as much as show it: the story of a love found, lost, found and… I won’t give away the ending.

The actor who plays the father of Toni’s character is the only one who never tells what happened or is happening; he endures things with stolid reticence, showing only on his impassive face a man defeated by a single failure; someone who never picked himself up again.

To be exact, first love here was not found; rather was it carefully planted on the part of one character and delightfully cultivated on the part of the other; until it appears in full flower. But when we look at the flower patch again, part of it is bare where once there was a pair of blossoms and now another pair of grows nearby, of which only one has survived from the earlier pair, slightly changed.

How all that happens is partly shown but mostly, in the old fashioned way of old movies. It is told but in a totally new way. The spoken narratives flow naturally, effortlessly from the situation the characters find themselves in, or put themselves in, and from which they try to get out.

There are flashbacks but they are not drawn out; what is drawn out is the narrative in which flashbacks are interjected as iconic and revealing instants.

It is bold to tell the story of a movie but all three actors pull it off superbly.

Piolo shows his love as it flowers; and then ruefully relates its loss but with the softness and clarity he has painfully earned through a suffering he has never overcome. It is buried so deep that he can relate it as if he had completely recovered but forgotten none of it. He does not tell it in an improbably clinical way but with just enough feeling, enough doleful depth in his eyes to show its root in a still throbbing pain.

Effortlessly he conveys a character that all of us has assumed at one time or another, sometimes permanently; the one who graduates from the things he does without effort, in this case teach history, to something else he likes doing but where he runs the risk of failure and succumbs. You see him happy as he goes boldly on the same wrong path when his failure should have warned him to take stock and prepare himself better for a second try. In the end he does take stock, prepares himself better but it is too late. The very lightness that made him so attractive to a childlike woman deeply in love with him makes him if not repellent then dangerous to her love.

As she puts it, always in the wrong context, she was afraid she would stop loving him; that would be too much of a loss for her because she cherished that love.

She loved him for his detachment and yet commitment; conveying a strength she doesn’t see in any other man in her life especially her father; but when he returns her love, she sees the weakness of a man who loves not wisely but too well. She and the life he thinks he can make for both of them is in her view facing certain failure.

Toni shows a childlike, even childish exuberance and optimism that survives intact through all the travails that it is Piolo who mostly suffers. For him the past is a healed wound but it is still sensitive to the touch—scar tissue but tougher than the surrounding skin yet affected by the slightest change in the climate. In the movie’s immortal line, “I know this, I can never unlove you.”

Piolo has a genius for snatching long lines teetering on the edge of cheesiness, with a line of his own that gives what was said to him, and to which he responded, a freshness and an aptness to the situation in which it unfolds.

Toni Gonzaga also tells but it is not her story and that is her problem. She cannot talk of her real feelings. She talk only of what she feels and is afraid to stop feeling; and of what she would like to believe but deeply mistrusts.

The scene of her trashing in bed, alternating between despair, hope and then turning to cunning is a bravura performance of perfect lightness; it never feels too long. I must say she has a most expressive set of toes. This is a part of the body that no preceding movie has ever been utilized to express anything, let alone sexual passion; as when her toes spread out until her big toe distances itself from the others and sticks out with a thumb’s up for what she has just so loudly undergone.

Toni too speaks but she tells the wrong things, which mislead her the most of all of those whose lives intersect on her return. We are not sure if that was accidental or contrived by Piolo and perhaps by her as well.

For Toni, narrative is not a way of moving the story forward but of having her way. And it is in reaction to Toni’s sweetest yet worst outburst of self-indulgence, that Iza Calzado—with an unvarying saccharine blandness—suddenly yet softly rises, with the fewest possible words and no histrionics, to give the most moving declaration of a love that never flared into life with passion, but sparked from the ember of a friendship and grew slowly into a steady undying flame. Speaking in a soft voice that never breaks as she masters, without showing a hint of it, a hurt that must be tearing her apart, she turns when she has said her piece and walks away. Then she cries.

This is the most mature romantic comedy I have ever watched on the screen, and while I am given to hyperbole whenever I enjoy a movie, on this one I have tried to hold back my reactions until finally I must say with cold sobriety, that this is one of the finest romantic comedy films ever made, here or abroad. It is the finest Filipino movie ever made in the old way of telling it without a trace of anachronism.

The last five minutes should be cut out because it is inconsistent with the character that is so carefully developed by Toni—not of a flirt or of someone can easily fall in and out love; but of a someone who chose carefully whom she wanted to love only to fearfully shy away from it, and then return to brave humiliation to undo her mistake. This movie has to be watched because it is not so much seen as experienced.

By Teddy Locsin, Jr.
Posted at 03/04/2014 4:03 PM | Updated as of 03/05/2014 12:17 PM


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