This review was first published in the Philippine Online Chronicles.
What could be the greatest proof of love? The film Kasal (The Commitment) – billed by Arnold Reyes and Oliver Aquino and directed by Joselito “J” Altarejos for the Director’s Showcase of the 10th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival (Cinemalaya X) – tried to find the answer.
The highlight of the film is the relationship between Paolo (Aquino), a film director and Sherwin (Reyes), a lawyer handling annulment cases. Paolo was the emotional one, believing that their marriage should push through even without the consent of authorities, be it legal, religious or even family (in this case, Sherwin’s). Meanwhile, Paolo – the realistic and logical one – would contest Paolo’s idea of their marriage, thinking that same-sex marriages would not be legally and religiously recognized in the Philippines. For now. Despite these differences in views, Paolo and Sherwin went on for three years, and Paolo even gave himself to Sherwin through sex. But in the last six months, the bond between Paolo and Sherwin went on the rocks. Sherwin alleged Paolo of his infidelity after he saw a photo of Paolo with another guy, which Paolo stressed that he and the other guy only had sex and no love was between them. Yet Sherwin, upon his homecoming in Nasugbu, Batangas, indirectly ‘denied’ Paolo of being his partner by introducing him to his family and friends as ‘best friend’, ‘business partner’ and other monikers.
Though they carried the main roles in the film, Reyes’s acting was more convincing than Aquino’s. Aquino may have wanted to draw sympathy for his portrayal, but he could have done better if he performed his role beyond the limitations of the script.
Also, though their unstable relationship is already present in the film, Altarejos’ point of view failed to heighten the emotions. The use of the glass windows and other sound effects like rain and music almost hindered to display Reyes’ and Aquino’s emotions, which muted their conversations and blurred their facial expressions. However, the music played during their confrontation scene (which I found out later was Johnoy Danao’s Ikaw at Ako) effectively depicted the irony of their situation.
Also, long exposures on certain scenes were off moments in the film: 1) the six-minute sex scene; and the moment when Paolo and Sherwin just stared at each other after the wedding reception (too bad it was not timed). It is best to assume the same generalization for the film would be made if the sex scene was shown in full or in parts.
Even the scene of their ride to work at the start of the film, wherein the camera was shaking though the road the car was crossing had no holes or humps. A friend explained that while it may imply the unstable relationship Paolo and Sherwin had, how could someone with limited knowledge of filmmaking get the message?
Another highlight of the film is the forced marriage of Mary Jane (Chloe Carpio), Sherwin’s teenage sister, and her boyfriend Bong after her family found out she was pregnant, and the Filipino marriage traditions that went along. The portrayal of Carpio (during the exchange of vows) and Bong’s mother (Ruby Ruiz, when she walked out at the dinner) should be commended.
Aside from the two, the film also tackled other issues like family planning, family relations, and legal and religious views on marriage in the country. That is why the film would be quite hard to be given a concrete conclusion, besides the fact that it had a so-called open ending.
The movie profoundly defined the stark differences in the views of marriage and mutual relationships in the context of Philippine society, thanks to Altarejos’ effective direction of the film’s storyline. With emergence of liberal ideologies on the said issues, one cannot avoid thinking that the society he grew up has been accustomed to the strict practice of cultural, religious and legal norms. With such contrast, ensuring commitment – which I believe would be a strong foundation for a couple to hold on to their relationship and to their future – would be a constant challenge.
After watching the film, a friend and I shared our thoughts about the complexities of marriages in the Philippines in general. While I noticed that the Paolo-Sherwin tandem prevailed more than that of Bong-Mary Jane because the former did love each other, she remarked, “Baka kasi superficial lang ang love between Bong and Mary Jane.” However, the most significant question one would ask after watching the film would be: is there a brighter future waiting for Sherwin and Paolo, and for Bong and Mary Jane?
Kasal (The Commitment) may have failed to produce buckets of tears, yet it may have helped open more minds and spark more intelligent and fruitful discussions.
PS: The film won the Best Musical Score, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography and Best Picture awards for Director’s Showcase in Cinamalaya X’s awards night last August 10.