A review of Jason Paul Laxamana’s Between Maybes
Pinoy romantic films have experienced a kind of awakening in this millennial generation overwhelmed by hugot, though grounded in the familiar mechanics of drama or screwball comedies or, as is usually the case, a hybrid of both genres. The formula is still obvious: stories of boy-meets-girl with little variations to how the boy gets the girl or vice-versa. Sometimes, the story manages to be pleasing despite the formulaic treatment, surprising us with cleverness and gravitas, grounded not only in formula but an awareness that even love stories do not exist in their whimsical bubble.
The current addition to the canon of globalized Pinoy love stories is Jason Paul Laxamana’s Between Maybes. Shot around Saga prefecture in Japan, it introduces us to two characters who come from different worlds and concsiousness: a celebrity escaping the drudgery of waning fame and a migrant living an idyllic yet numbingly, solitary existence. One of film’s opening scenes has the young female artista, Hazel (Julia Barreto), in an airport ticketing counter. This compulsive decision has her flying out to Japan and finding herself in an uncrowded provincial town where she meets Louie (Gerald Anderson) who works as a waiter in a seafood restaurant. Lost, she enlists Louie to be her guide eventually sparking the romance.
Things get serious when Hazel gets a glimpse of Louie’s solitary life in his akiya (an abandoned house, which is becoming a phenomenon in provincial Japan with the younger generation’s exodus to the cosmopolitan, urbanized cities) where he also fishes. In this recluse existence, Hazel not only gets to know more and appreciate Louie’s mannered life and outlook, but she gets to confront the realities of fame and familial obligations. Their whimsical encounter also prods Louie to confront his own demons, having been left in Japan and forced to grow up alone after his parents were deported when he was 10.
In a way, Louie’s character echoes the isolation of Alessandra de Rossi’s character in Sigrid Bernardo’s Kita Kita, incidentally also shot Japan, in Hokkaido, which is similarly remote from the urbanized areas. The film wonderfully captures Saga’s remoteness but the cinematography does this without taking too much time dwelling in touristy shots. For instance, the camera captures Louie and the spaces and environment he is in to establish the solitariness of his existence. There is elegance evoked by the montage of this mannered existence. And in Laxamana’s film, Hazel is the distraction, a temporary diversion to shake up Louie’s solitude and his personal magmas.
The chance-encounter, popularized by Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, reinforces the present as a kind of standstill, and extended freeze-frame, cognizant of the past but anxious as well of the imminent future. This chapter in both Louie and Hazel’s life is pregnant with existential angst fueled by their individual realities in the context of modern life’s preoccupations and attachments, their current status and unrealized ambitions. Hazel and Louie are then faced with question of love’s possibility and permanence in the context of the Filipino diaspora and the entanglements of personal histories. Since the chance-encounter allows for the convergence of the past and future, it is riddled with anxieties and uncertainties.
The prolific Laxamana is not new with romance stories having made three films last year in the genre, from The Day After Valentines’ (which also features a diasporic narrative and a topical theme of mental health) to To Love Some Buddy, a more traditional best-friends-in-love narrative. Like both films, Laxamana explores this possibility of love in improbable circumstances, and in Between Maybes, this improbability is heightened by the aforementioned realities with larger stakes of displacement and sacrifice.
In the past couple of years, more specifically, love stories in the current cinematic landscape are not cocooned in localized settings but are motioned by the realities of migration and mobility. Antoinette Jadaone’s Never Not Love You examines relationships in the context of the globalized labor economy and Irene Villamor’s two films released in a span of months, Meet Me in St. Gallen and Sid and Aya, portrays how love is tested by the circumstances brought about by these current realities. And just like these films, Between Maybes highlight this increasing mobility and explores the possibility of love in our current realities, amid inequalities and unequal chances.