Waiting for Sunset (Philippines, 2018) [SDAFF Spring Showcase 2019]

Waiting for Sunset, directed by Carlo Encino Catu, tells the story of marriage, or the failure of it. It follows an old unmarried couple, Teresa (Perla Bautista) and Celso (Menggie Cobarrubias), who are celebrating their 27th year together, and Bene (Dante Rivero), Teresa’s former husband of 26 years. Bene reaches out to Teresa as he’s fallen into ill health. This is all conveyed through aesthetics similar to slow cinema so by the time you reached this information about the characters, you’re already a good third of the way into the runtime. Writer John Carlo Pacala’s story seems to be something which could be told in a short. The film’s direction however, goes down paths filled of mundaneness which strategically allow very slow exposition.

The mundaneness of the film has its own charm. The film is trying to capture something of the characters’ lives, may it be the provincial setting, or their seeping into old age. It is mostly apparent in the sequences at Bene’s house. This mundaneness is mostly contrasted with the sequences over at Teresa and Celso’s concrete home, where the cuts are shorter, and these two sequences mostly exist side by side. Later on, when the three characters met, the variety of rhythms slowly fade away, as if suggesting that the conflict among the characters has been resolved, or that there really isn’t any at all.

The main problem with Waiting for Sunset is that it reaches this very flatness. There really isn’t much going on in the film. The only conflict which you might have expected from the first, turns out to be almost non-existent. It is with this sense that the characters begin retrogressing. It is here, more than half-way through the film, that we are exposed to the film’s concern with failed marriage. The cause of Bene’s and Teresa’s separation was hinted at in an earlier sequence by Celso, but is only confirmed very late by Bene. We learn that Bene left because he woke up one day not being in-love with Teresa. Teresa, later on reciprocated this unloving, in a manner that is complementary and non-antagonistic. Flat, even.

This problem of flatness has become an inevitable result of the slow cinema-like aesthetic choices. Slow cinema, as observed from its more popular examples from the films of Tsai Ming-liang to Lav Diaz, uses the expanded shot-time to raise more complications and not just to add details to action. It’s a complication which requires patience. Waiting for Sunset on the other hand, seems to be made impatiently. The result of this impatience is that it begins to “say” a lot of things through very detailed actions, only to arrive at very few meanings. But, this de-complication is precisely the main point of everything in this film, a symptom of the youth of its makers.

Youth, of course, does not always guarantee freshness. In the case of this film, its youth is represntative of the feel-good millennial with a non-aggressive approach to conflict. A youth which magically wishes conflicts away. Waiting for Sunset is the very ideal of that, both in form and content. It “does” slow cinema without the complication of its slowness. It casts away with marriage by magically waking up not being in-love with the other. Thematically, of course, with the presence of old characters, the non-aggressive approach might have complemented their being on screen. But even with this setup, the film seems to contradict itself. The very concern of the film – doing away with marriage in exchange of a free-floating relationship, a very millennial concern – is projected on to its characters. This makes the film, in a way, quite uncomfortable to watch if taken in a very realistic manner. For characters in their 70s, living in the provinces, their attitude to marriage is relatively young and urban.

As it stands, the film provides quite excellent performance from its actors, albeit of anachronistic characters. It also has great cinematographic compositions, albeit devoid of anything more substantial than the surface. Waiting for Sunset highlights more of a speculative aspect of what-ifs originally reserved for science fiction but now being deployed for the dismantling of social institutions in favor of contemporary bias over diffusion of any kind, from aesthetic to social. It is with this speculations that it presents its comfortable snapping and breaking with conventions only to be left with nothing but a beautiful and empty frame.

Waiting for Sunset was shown on April 12 2019 at the San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase.

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