Getting Lost in 'Ang Nawawala'

Ang Nawawala (What Isn’t There) revolves around the homecoming of Gibson Bonifacio (Dominic Roco), a twentysomething guy who stopped speaking as a child. For the first time in years, he returns to Manila for Christmas and reunites with his dysfunctional upper middle class family who’s kept haunted by a previous tragedy. Set to the resonating background of the local indie music scene, Ang Nawawala is a tale about losing oneself in love and finding solace in the arms of friends and family.

Fresh from its successful run during this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, this Marie Jamora full-length debut was recently shown in a select number of cinemas in and out of the metro due to massive clamor for a commercial showing, and justifiably so. It held the Holy Grail of what low-budget films must possess in this day and age – multiple sold out screenings in a popular festival, positive word of mouth publicity, favorable reviews from critics and enthusiasts, and a considerable social media presence.

Image from Cinemalaya.org

The film was calculated to appeal to a specific demographic commonly known as hipsters. And indeed, it effectively fulfills a mental checklist of hipsterdom: indie music, ukay-ukay clothes, vinyl records, digital cameras, private art galleries, intimate gigs, protected sex, and herbal refreshments (if you know what I mean). It contains dialogue that people can integrate into everyday conversation – in Starbucks or some other similarly themed joint (conyo is how outsiders would call it). It also features a pretty and idealized set of characters unapologetically mirroring the moneyed bourgeoisie in this particular part of the world. Its over-the-top stylized setting is guaranteed to get the hipster seal of approval.

But it would be disrespectful to only look into the circumstances surrounding the characters. Besides, it is a film filled with people so charming and effervescent they’re too easy to get drawn into (even without knowing the plot). They’re like that ad for a loaf bread years ago which had a tagline that went something like, “it’s so good you can eat it on its own.”

Dominic managed to play the artsy-fartsy Gibson role effectively despite not having to speak for most of the film’s duration. Felix Roco’s portrayal of the dead identical twin Jamie, meanwhile, was solid and believable – credits to his confidence and innate bad boy charm. The movie also reveals that manic pixie dream girls and Annicka Dolonius go together like peas and carrots; she was perfect for the role of Gibson’s main squeeze Enid del Mundo. Boboy Garovillo (Wes) and Dawn Zulueta (Esme) also provide great support as the Bonifacio couple; but the real standout was Alchris Galura (Teddy Guinoo), who hits the right spot in depicting the commercialization of this particular subculture by portraying a lazy hipster wannabe.

However, the issues and life complexities presented in the film may seem trivial or juvenile for a lot of people. Figuring out if one likes a band or not, gifting someone with a rare vinyl record shipped from Japan, fully nude spa retreats, and worrying about not having someone to drive you home are first world realities that don’t really fit in the third world. On the contrary, that’s the same quality that makes Ang Nawawala so refreshing. It’s a temporary break from the poverty porn Filipinos are so used to. Certainly, it’s not for everyone; and this is why the movie peaceably resonates.

Despite its hits and misses, it wins audiences with the mind-blowing amount of amazing music in it. As they’d say, music is all-encompassing. Ad nauseam, it’s the glue that can bind viewers together. Not too often do people get the chance to see films featuring live performances from great local acts like Sandwich, Itchyworms, Ebe Dancel, Tarsius, Flying Ipis, Ang Bandang Shirley, Hannah & Gabi, The Strangeness, and Pedicab; aside from the lilting musical score that served as great backdrop for its more poignant scenes.

Standout scenes include the graveyard scene where the twins Gibson and Jamie are seen smoking a joint for the last time (which lasted for around three minutes, by the way) and the post-gig make-out-cum-music sharing session between Gibson and Enid inside a car. Obviously, the good parts to commit to memory are the music-related ones.

This writer, by no means aims to use the term hipster as derogatory. Criticizing the counter-culture one grew up in would be a self-condemning bitchslap in the face. That being said, it would be safe to say that Ang Nawawala is an enigma of sorts. A viewer could get lost in this movie in more ways than one. Case in point, yours truly got lost in the music and got lost searching for deeper themes at the same time.

Or perhaps this writer’s just looking for something that isn’t really there.

This article also appeared in the August 2012 issue of Gala Magazine.

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