Eloisa May P. Hernandez
The camera plays an integral and integrative role in the film Minsan Pa. It is a repository of a woman’s visions: her past, present, and the promise of a future.
Filmed entirely in Cebu, it stars Jomari Yllana as Jerry, a tour guide to the “Queen City of the South” for local and foreign, mostly Japanese, tourists. He sells not only the sites and sounds of Cebu, but also pimps the women and eventually prostitutes himself. However, there is a sense that for Jerry, there is no such thing as a free lunch; everything has a price. It is part of his trade: he lives on commissions, tips, favors, and has mastered the art of bartering. There is goodness in Jerry, though, as the breadwinner of his family, he sacrifices his own needs and wants for his mother and two siblings, and stands as the patriarch of the family. In return, he wields control over his mother and siblings (mother’s attempt to go back to teaching, his brother’s gambling, his sister’s emotional outburst).
Luna (Ara Mina) is a pre-school teacher who joined one of Jerry’s tours and is apparently running away from her philandering boyfriend, Alex. The whole trip, she holds her camera almost all the time, like a security blanket, ready to shoot (and even used it to shut up an irritating boy). Alex follows her to Cebu to woo her. On a boating trip, the camera accidentally falls off the boat (which could have been avoided if she had the good sense to put the strap around her neck) and plunges deep in the sea. The camera takes a symbolic metamorphosis here as it is blinded, obscured by the depths of the sea.
Alex proposes marriage but reneges on his marriage proposal as he is blinded by a vehicular accident. Luna goes back to Cebu and, with the help of Jerry, goes on a mission to recover the camera.
The camera takes on a symbolic and real significance to Luna. To be photographed is to bear witness to one’s presence, as Pierre Bourdieu posited. Luna photographs Alex, to affirm his presence in her life, to affirm a time of happiness, as Luna’s presence in Alex’s life is also affirmed. The camera is a witness of, and an affirmation, of Luna’s visions of a nostalgic past filled with happiness. However, a photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence, the late Susan Sontag wrote. The photographs in Luna’s camera serve as a pseudo-presence (of her past with a tinge of nostalgia) and a token of absence (of her present without Alex).
Jerry’s affection for Luna grows as he misinterprets Luna’s trip as a sign of reciprocal affection. Thinking that Luna is weakened when Alex left her, Jerry tries to barter love and protection to Luna. Sadly, for Jerry, his love is unrequited. He is weakened by his inability to give, to help, and to love without expecting anything in return. His selfish notions about love blind him. Jerry, the tour guide, knows the landscapes of Cebu but is misguided in the landscapes of the heart.
The loss of Alex’s vision is symbolic of his loss of power and the ability to gaze. Alex thinks that his blindness weakens him, and he doubts Luna’s love for him. He is blinded, physically and emotionally (and even turns mute as he is almost devoid of any lines towards the end of the film). For Luna, the recovery of the camera, and the images of their happiness it contains, validate the fact that they shared a past, a proof that nothing has changed, and the potentials of a future. As Alex loses his vision, Luna holds on to hers.
Luna shines through the movie despite the very macho Jerry who thinks she is a damsel-in-distress to be saved. She who stands at the door of the hotel, deciding whether to invite Jerry to dinner (or not), as she repels the advances of Jerry. Luna remains steadfast in her vision of a life with Alex, with or without his sight. It is Luna who holds the camera – the woman, in a reversal, who is the bearer of the gaze.
Luna’s name (moon as light source, photography as “light writing”) bears her vision: to shed light on two blind and weak men. Luna sheds light on the obscured goodness in Jerry’s heart, emotionally blinded, and transforms him. Luna’s love shines bright through the blinded heart of Alex. It is Luna who enables the two men to regain a vision of themselves, and inevitably, to “see” again.
Defying the laws of probability and even of possibility that the camera and the film will survive the ravages of the sea, it is the audience (not Luna, Jerry or Alex) who will behold the visions of Luna – images etched on the silver coated negative, projected on the silver screen of the cinema house at the end of the film. In Minsan Pa, cinema revisits its predecessor and pays homage to the camera (and the camera obscura) as it embarks on a journey of enlightenment and a fulfillment of a woman’s vision. Minsan Pa illuminates an old cliche: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.