Tessa Maria Guazon
Sonata Maria (Ug ang Babayeng Halas ang Tunga sa Lawas, Origane Films 2014) wrestles in cunning and play the wrought question of existence. It is viewed through the eyes of a millennial rendering it specific to a generation. The ruminations that course through the film however, cut across generations facing bewilderment and confusion of varying configurations. The film employs a nomadic structure yet is densely composed combining the belligerent with the docile through elements that represent both conformity and rebellion. It courts bafflement by teetering between the cryptic and the purposeful, and by alternating between near indulgence and deep introspection.
More than any other in the YCC 2014 shortlist, Sonata Maria embodies the necessity of crafting and putting forth engaging visual language. It does so by skillfully weaving the elements of surprise and play in its narrative. The images that make the almost disjunctive story are artfully composed in its combination of the fantastic and the ordinary. The locale is the scene that anchors an inner landscape; the former is Davao and Visayan, the vernacular language; and the latter is the meandering imagination. Sonata Maria is deliberately eclectic, replete with familiar tropes (the carnival and the city street are examples) and the typical convention of ‘unstructured conversation’ between its characters. Yet surprise is ingrained through its representations of the workings of the mind as it makes little distinction between straying thoughts and the character’s real life world. This is achieved by pictorial and visual parallels between imaginings (the thoughts inside the main character’s head) and the film’s narrative flow.
While the film itself is imaginative navigation, it inserts into this stream another life world and succeeds to construct a many-layered format. Most important, the film veers off from tendencies of being overburdened or becoming overworked and is imbued with invigorating newness. It did not ask that we take sides, judge the character’s foibles, or scrutinize too closely the unlikely turns of the character’s and indeed, the film’s mind. It is what is and that by itself causes discomfort. However, the film director have found an unlikely path of animating this unease in a visual language that renders the narrative with unexpected seamlessness: take for example, scenes where using a gun accidentally found in a toilet was considered. In the first, it was used to shoot a man in the stomach after a relay of slow pursuit; in another it was contemplated for self-annihilation (which is quicker and less painful perhaps, the head or the mouth?). Of course, the main character turns out to be ‘chicken’ for both acts (choosing roast chicken over suicide), as his courage is of a questioning and not the drastic or daring kind.
He lingers and lurks, nurses misery, attempts optimism, luxuriates in fantasy and becomes an incoherent patchwork of opposed persuasions and incongruous tendencies. He reflects on what life is (he was born on the same day as Bonifacio but is far from revolutionary) and what it can become, and finds his musings all futile enterprise. Thus, we wonder if he or the film itself has anything to say. Perhaps there is more or little to be told. Maybe we are sure of the path or probably none exists. Way finding may be torturous, indulgent, pained, delightful or joyous, or one may opt not to care. It is this trail of ambiguity that is Sonata Maria’s version of wanderlust: textured, amusing, baffling, surprising thus, infinitely wondrous.
Tessa Maria Guazon is assistant professor at the Art Studies Department, University of the Philippines Diliman. Her research interests center on cities and culture, specifically art production in the context of urban development.
Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Debosyon (here and here), Pagpag, Lauriana, Quick Change, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti,, Babagwa, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Mga Anino ng Kahapon, Sonata, and the 2013 Best First Features.