WALANG KASARIAN ANG DIGMANG BAYAN
(The Revolution Knows No Gender)
MEMORIES OF FORGETTING
A YOUNG man wakes up to the sound of coffee. He walks to a mother combing her hair in front of her mirror. The young man tells her mother how lovely she is. The room where they are is as cozy and welcoming as good memories. The woman stands near the windows, their shutters half-closed. The young man chomps mindlessly on a banana. This is domestic life, where the world is alive and everything is alright.
This safe life, however, does not open the film, Joselito Altarejos’s Memories of Forgetting. There is an epilogue at the start, in black and white—the low, low angle of a man’s feet threatening to engulf us immediately with the sensation of being a captive, framed. This man in the film within a film, a smaller frame within the bigger frame of the current cinema, will start to paint. He is trying to draw a figure of the diwata—the elusive Enchanted Woman of folklore.
The film rendered in black and white is taken from Altarejos’s old film, Ang Lalaki sa Parola.
We see next a man running after another man. They meet and go home together. Is this the past? The lovemaking that follows is violent. It is no more sex than a bout. When the passion and the heat are over, the two talk about their past. But, like the sex, this is no more recalling than confronting each other. Guilt and goading follow. Recriminations and explanations are wild footnotes to the two men trying to make sense of the chapter of love—and lust—between them.
My straight (oh, please, allow me this pun!) narration of Altarejos’s latest work is not doing any justice to the sensations and bravura of the film.
As with any memory, Altarejos makes sure there are no time markers to guide us in tracking the lives of two men, or a man with his own memories. Images after images swarm and we simply need to live in them, feel them, and not even understand them. Some of the pictures can overwhelm because they do not fit the world that we are anticipating to form. Remembering is ruled by the mind and the mind in this case is that of a young man.
In memories, places blur, geographies are at times altered. In memories, this young man trying to recover the past forgets one thing—that a person shifts in the alter narrative.
An image collapses what seems like a series of objects, persons and landscapes into meanings. The meanings, of course, like in memories, are furtive and fast. They disappear as soon as they appear. I am tempted to re-call the Japanese aesthetics of mono-no-aware, the ultimate principles in ephemerality: things are beautiful because they do not last. Turn it around for assurance: it will not last and, thus, its beauty.
But what are memories if they do not last? Altarejos, thank goodness, allows us at least to have a core in what could have been just a collection of tactile and moving surroundings. The core of the story is in this man, locked down and locked in at home. It is not a choice and we are not surprised, for in many works of Altarejos human beings are at the mercy of forbidding structures. There is the society—and its new technologies—not ever ready about boys loving each other, as in Unfriend. There is the couple not allowed to be with each other forever, as in Kasal. Then there is the boy experimenting with his sexuality but violently abused by the very person who should celebrate the experimentation, which is the way to discovery of true self and sexuality, in Ang Lihim ni Antonio.
Then, of course, like in Pink Halo-Halo, the noble ancestor of this long line of cinema about men loving other men, there are the women—the mothers and aunts—who understand in silence sometimes, or in their own griefs, why men who love men suffer.
This motif of the mother (in Ang Lihim ni Antonio, Antonio’s mother kills the abuser of her son) finds an embodiment in the mother of the young man in this film about forgetting. And as the mother, Dexter Doria is an arresting presence: she is flamboyant in gestures while recalling her years away from home but nobly refined with her love for the son. In a magical scene, music arises from a player somewhere. It is an old kundiman, called “Babalik Ka Rin,” by Constancio de Guzman. The young man stands up and interrupts a mundane act of forgetting (the mother can’t recall where she has placed her ATM card and has already blamed the whole world for it). The young man puts his left hand behind his back, stretches the right hand to the mother, who accepts the hand. They dance. As they move around the tight space, the son rests his head closer to his mother as the latter embraces him tight. She moves her lips, uttering words of assurance. Like in memories, words and conversations get muffled but the scenario from any past is as clear as the love on that day.
As the young man, Noel Escondo has the raw energy to keep on asking what went wrong in the past. It is the same rawness that manifests through the vulnerability that makes him the man of memory par-excellence. He is as blameless as any man with a gift to remember, and yet he is also the person we wish would stop remembering for his own sake. We know, however, he would succeed in forgetting because as his Young Man says, we add many things in our memories, details that were not there, because this leads to forgetting.
Altarejos’s Memories of Forgetting is particularly significant because the events being remembered are all triggered by the conditions of the pandemic. In dialogues, we overhear the quarantines—all kinds of it. We also see the two young men discussing the absence of the government. But what makes this film extraordinary is its employ of the production design and the camera, which indulges us with a terrifically imagistic cinema. We have shots of stairwells and staircases that do not appear to allow exits and entrances. Lines of walls crisscross and shoot up to tiny apertures letting in the blue sky or, maybe, some artificial light. Hallways are photographed in blistering red and pus yellow, a menacing backdrop to a man with a bouquet of flowers looking up to a sweet but nevertheless scary phantasm of the past.
The last frame, the one that puts closure to this film, is again taken from the old film. The scene happens in front of the grave. Is Death the only end to memories? The film fortunately does not subscribe to that. It accesses the strength of human agency, where the old man tells the young artist—the one who tries to imagine the Diwata—that our existence does not depend on the understanding of the others…pang-unawa ng iba. What matters is the freedom of our selves, ang kalayaan ng sarili. What saves Memories of Forgetting from being didactic is how the last scene is taken from another old movie. It is not anymore the film about memories but the filmmaker re-thinking the truths in his old film, adding details, discovering new lessons about self and freedom. He is the exorcist who finds out too soon the Devil is truly in the details.
The film costars Jonathan Ivan Rivera. Written and directed by Joselito Altarejos, Memories of Forgetting is produced by 2076 Kolektib.
We started working in our film WALANG KASARIAN ANG DIGMANG BAYAN (The Revolution Knows no Gender) in 2019. Our first shooting day was on 30 June 2020 in Marikina City during the LGBTQIA+ Pride March. Our rag tag group was composed of Oliver Aquino, Hubert Tibi, Manual Garcellano, Jay Altarejos, Arnold Reyes. We covered the event and shot some scenes.
Then, we grew into a full production when the script had its shape already while at the Ricky Lee Film Script Writing Workshop. Other collaborators came in. And a lot of things happen.
We are screenings our films, having live online discussions on immediate social and political issues, we empower others in anyway we can.
We dream and strive for a better Philippines where equality, social justice, and national democracy prevail.
- Jay Altarejos 10April2020