Directed by Gino Santos
Written by Gino Santos and Jeff Stelton
Ang Nawawala (What Isn't There)
Directed by Marie Jamora
Written by Marie Jamora and Ramon De Veyra
At home he's a tourist. Gibson (Dominic Roco), that is. After seeing his twin brother Jamie fall to his death, he has spoken to no one, except, that is, for Jamie (Felix Roco), who's all grown up and smokes as much pot as he does but is probably a ghost and most likely a hallucination, and is what the title of Ang Nawawala may be referring to. What isn't there, right. He's the void in Gibson's life. He's the void, too, in the lives of his left-behind parents. His father (Buboy Garovillo, underused) has taken to sleeping in his room. And his mother (Dawn Zulueta, radiant) regards everything with an icy remove, particularly Gibson, who is the wrong son who died the way Timothy Hutton was in Ordinary People, only he mitigates his pathos not by slashing his wrists, but immersing himself, much like everyone his age tends to do as a default, in the comfort zones of his bohemia.
The film takes after him, swaddling itself in often intoxicating artifice: from the gregarious color schemes and hyper-stylized dress codes to the endless parade of scenester gigs and haunts to the first world problems we wish most of us would have and the reliance on such fashionable youth film tropes as MPDGs. All this reinforces its candied, faintly self-reflexive milieu, its characters defined by their totems, their longings charted in their denials. This is how we shield ourselves from having to deal with the real world sometimes. And it's as if the film were itself daunted, like Gibson, to confront the anxieties at its core without protective covering. But no matter how festive and bright and exuberant its young noise gets, the sense that it will eventually lose to the ennui it's trying to stave off, to the emptiness it's trying to fill, tinges everything with a gauzy melancholia. This push-pull between how empowering those totems we exalt in our youth are and how transient that power can be is, of course, the shared tension of all youth films and the most crucial thing Ang Nawawala shares with The Animals.
The class divide is as rampant in this country as the poverty our cinema is fond of making porn from. But it rarely gets tackled full-bore that it counts as one-up for these two films that they do, and with such an assured verve at that. The farthest Ang Nawawala goes in approaching the schism, though, is a montage of people on the streets celebrating New Year's Eve seen from the back seat of a car on its way to a posh party. It's gaze is detached, curious at best. The Animals is more brazen about it, more arrogant, more without remorse. And it comes to a troubling boil when it hangs the most corrosive burst of aggression on an economically-challenged outsider, which might be better read as a cop-out than a measure of its worldview, even if it makes contextual sense if the latter is what it is.
The Animals is not about wistful hipsters, after all, but rather their diametric opposite, a strain of upper-crust youth with no pop cultural co-dependencies for shaping their selves.What music they have is faceless to the point of anonymous, their fashion extravagant but off the rack. The future bores them, the present is just time that needs killing, debauchery and violence are just things to do. Their cocksure hedonism feeds off their privilege and knowing how high it makes their place in the pecking order and how this is some license to get away with almost anything.
It references Skins about as much as Ang Nawawala references Wes Anderson, sure, and when it soft-pedals in the end, it does blunt its nihilistic thrust. But there's an authenticity to its depravity, to its bleakness, to how brutal it is for leaving the character with the most to lose from its gruesome turn of events hanging in bliss at the end, that sticks and lingers, despite its lapses. Which is not to say that the bleary optimism of Ang Nawawala is false. It believes wholeheartedly in its own hopefulness. But is also aware of how it can only go so far. You can tell from how the conversations Gibson has with Jamie are the moments that ring truest. Some wounds run deep and take forever to heal. And sometimes the only voices you can trust are the ones in your head.