“The unique thing about Empire is that it has expanded its colonization over the whole of existence and over all that exists. It is not only that Capital has enlarged its human base, but it has also deepened the moorings of its jurisdiction. Better still, on the basis of a final disintegration of society and its subjects, Empire now intends to recreate an ethical fabric, of which the hipsters, with their modular neighborhoods, their modular media, codes, food, and ideas, are both the guinea pigs and the avant-garde.”
Tiqqun, This Is Not a Program
During the past days, commenting on filmmakers (and even critics) who comment negatively on the theoretical practice of film analysis, I mentioned through one of my social media accounts manners of which they perceive how film must be appreciated. They only but affirm Edel Garcellano’s comment on film industry’s cohorts who deem cinema as “an enterprise which needs all the compassion it must have – a baby that must be protected even from the harsh light of the sun” and thus wary of any criticism that uses other lenses than the formal knowledge of the medium. Nestor Abrogena’s Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa is a product of this cinema culture. In this film, we are faced with a seemingly new kind of cinema: a cinema with no theory and history. No theory in the sense that the frames the film conjure tries to resist any more symbolization than it already has: a posture of realism as Real. No history in the way it treats history as its object of nostalgia and nothing more. It begs to be taken as it is. While this isn’t exclusively the genesis of such practice in filmmaking, it is otherwise a candidate as its posterboy.
Since the film begs to be taken as it is: it is no criticism. It supposes nothing outside of its own narrative. But of course, one must be generous to give more than what one begs.
Based on the scenes when Sam and Isa discusses art, old buildings and nostalgia, it would have been an effective parody of the upper-class art culture if it would’ve had a sense of irony in it, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t have any. For what is presented in this film are mere affirmation of things as natural: the whole of the film is a certain reduction to universality, a common ground between them upper-class students/artists and majority of LRT1 commuters. The scene when Isa fell asleep in the arms of Sam while standing in the train car is a sample of this: she, who sees the rail transit as an option, becomes a message of the upper-class who also labors and gets tired as much as other commuters who actually do real labor but only have the public transport as their means.
I remember having a conversation with a former workmate who described his alma mater, De La Salle University located in Taft Ave, as having an existence similar with those in science fiction as dystopia. Their academic complex, worth of millions of both corporate and whatever investments, stands in the middle of the poverty stricken city: an irony which is also represented by similar infrastructures near it. What we are given in the film after the train scenes are a glimpse inside one of De La Salle’s tower of doom: where you can’t really distinguish a classroom from the conference room at the edge of your BPO office space. As the frame tracks the characters in the halls via handheld camera on stabilizer, you are given an almost first-hand glimpse of its homogeneous spaces and people. The metaphor of sameness went overboard that it has transcended from a school romance drama to a totalitarian dystopian fiction in which we see people happily integrated in a system of standardized utilization and reproduction of craftsmen for industrial use.
For most dystopian tales, the conflict is not between characters but between freedom and the rule of a greater order. At first, it would seem that the conflict is in the secret love of Sam and Isa, but as the twist in the end of the film, in a classroom full of wired desktops, it depicts how the system won in the end: it has always been a power struggle between the teacher and the student, the system and its subject. In the end, it is still the system who has the last say on the subject’s product: screenplay titled “Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa” (The Story of Us, in literal translation) which end was erased by the system. Isa never became free from the chain which binds her.
Looking the film backwards from this twist, some questions surface: did Isa ever really existed on her own or is she merely a product of the system on which subjected her? What does she really want that is outside of all of these? What is it that she really desires? The questions, as she went deeply integrated into the system becomes harder to answer. Isa became an impossibility.
But the film, as I’ve said, is without irony. Its wit never really went beyond its formal qualities and lets its impulse play throughout. The film is a monster with empty frames: created a desiring-machine through Sam, which only silenced Isa.
This dystopia, however, is a fairy-tale for these train-riding hipsters.