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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 10, 2018

Distance Movie Review: Well Crafted Movie About A Dysfunctional Family Done With Deliberate Restraint

‘DISTANCE’ is a fairly well crafted movie with above average technical and production values, but after watching it, one realizes that it’s sensibility is definitely so not Filipino. In Pinoy dramas, it’s the mother who is traditionally patient, sacrificing, forgiving. Here, the situation is reversed, as it’s the dad (Noni Buencamino) who is the “martir, matiisin, mapagbigay, mapagpatawad, ulirang asawa at ama.”

The mom (Iza Calzado) suddenly left him and their two daughters some years ago, making their family a dysfunctional one. In past local films, the mom did this because she has no choice but to work as an OFW for the sake of her family, like Vilma Santos in “Anak” and Nora Aunor in “Flor Contemplacion”. But here, Iza leaves to run away to London with her lover, Max Eigenmann (yes, this is a lesbian-themed flick, in two ways not just one).

The movie opens in cold London, with Iza looking so forlorn and lonely walking on the beach after her lover has died. Then Noni suddenly shows up in her flat to fetch her and she is seen going home to her daughters from who she’s been separated for five years.

Of course, there’s palpable, volatile tension in the family with its emotionally wounded members. The situation is similar to “Anak” where Claudine Barretto is rude to her mom, Vilma. Here, it’s also the eldest daughter, Therese Malvar, who gives her mom the cold shoulder. Aside from the grudges she nurses for her mom, she herself is fighting her own personal demons that, ironically, are no stranger to her own mom.

But unlike in “Anak” where it’s the mother who delivers one long aria to explain her past decisions when the explosive confrontation between her and her resentful daughter erupts, here, it’s Therese who sizzles and corruscates in the scene where her dam bursts and all the hurtful resentments and recriminations for her negligent mom that she has been harboring in her heart all these years vehemently inundates everyone. Nilamon niya talaga lahat ng kaeksena niya with this melodramatic outburst.

The reaction of Noni to his wife’s infidelities is not typical of Pinoy macho men who discovers he’s a cuckold. The normal Pinoy husband would surely feel so personally hurt and emasculated, especially with the knowledge that it’s not another man that his wife has cuckolded him with but she’s playing with fire with another woman.

This is also reflected in a patient of Noni who’s a therapist. His client (Matt Daclan) confesses that he keeps on forgiving his erring wife. Instead of giving his wife the uppercut she so deserves, Noni likewise chooses to be merely angst-ridden and just keeps on crying and crying quietly like he’s the personification of inner turmoil and marital pain. And the reincarnation of Rosa Mia.

We just wish the script has given us more information about the characters that will help us understand them more as to where they’re coming from, so we can sympathize with them a bit better. The film is under written as we don’t even know why Iza even married Noni and bore him two kids, considering that he’s so much older than her. In real life, Noni is a senior citizen at 61 while Iza is only turning 36 this August 12.

The style of the film is intentionally so anti-local teleserye which is full of screaming and slapping scenes. Except for the outburst of Therese, this one deliberately tries to be very quiet, controlled. It ended with a breakfast scene which is almost wordless. The issues are not really resolved, even if Iza complies to Therese’s complaint that she never said sorry to them, the family she unceremoniously left behind for her own selfish reasons.

The treatment is very European and culture vultures, who savour the thematic arthouse sensibilities of Ingmar Bergman and French auteurs with their reticent relationship dramas, will rejoice over it. The emotions are kept inside, rarely articulated, and you can just feel the simmering tension between the characters.

Of course, not every Pinoy moviegoer can be expected to appreciate this lofty, noble style of filmmaking. Its willful dispassionate approach can distance its characters to local viewers who prefer tear-drenched catharsis and for whom such subtlety and restraint will keep them at arm’s length.

But still, we want to commend Director Perci Intalan for trying to deviate from the usual mushy, sudsy melodrama to give us a different kind of emotional film. Sabi nga, so we can try “naman iba-ibang putahe”. The film says that forgiveness is important so we can move on and have a more peaceful life. We know the family is in trouble and the ties that bind its members might have withered for good.

But now, let the healing begin. So we want to end this with a direct quote from Pope Francis which is perfect for the film: “There is no perfect family. We do not have perfect parents, we are not perfect, we do not marry a perfect person or have perfect children. We have complaints from each other. We disappoint each other. So there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival. Without forgiveness the family becomes an arena of conflict and a stronghold of hurt.”