Where does one begin with a good movie – the kind that resonates a day after watching it, the kind that you gush about? Maybe with this: for the first time in my life, I had the daring to watch a movie alone. Even when this theater in particular, my gay friend had warned, was a pick-up place; even when as I entered the theater, there were only two other guys, in separate ends of the theater, and I had no choice but to be nervous. Goodness, the things I do for Pinoy indie films.
But soon enough, three different couples walk in, and so does Jackie Lou Blanco with her kids – hooray! for intelligent viewers who chose Peque Gallaga over Angels and Demons! Having seen the first two of the Sine Direk project’s movies – Fuschia and Ded Na Si Lolo! – and missing Litsonero by Lore Reyes (because they pulled it out after two fluggin’ days!), I crossed my fingers for Agaton and Mindy. Oh, please please make my heart flutter, jaded as I am about love?
Thankfully, Gallaga outdoes himself here. I had imagined Baby Love (from the 90s) on the one hand, and Pinoy Blonde (from recent years) on the other. Agaton and Mindy is neither. Because it is informed by the contemporary and the current, which is to say that it also highlights an urgency that isn’t just for the young. It in fact goes beyond the notions of puppy love, and becomes more of a love story than any of those commercial romances.
Because Agaton and Mindy has a realness that’s so rare in our shores; it has the daring to reveal what it actually is the younger ones are dealing with, what it is that goes on in their heads in the midst of their silences. It is real, because these are real people, NOT the easy stereotypes for contemporary fiction. As her bestfriend says after Mindy asks that she be supportive of her love for Agaton: I am no fucking cliché!
And neither is this movie. It begins easily enough with dance class: Agaton and Mindy are being told to find their center as they practice their piece for the recital. A love dance, the discomfort was obvious between the two, and their dance teacher (played by Cherie Gil) was screaming: desire! desire! desire! Artists – dancers! – need to be a little crazy!
But Agaton was the least crazy of them all. He was a dance scholar, was being ostracized because of it, and was on a search for his mother. Nothing fazed him, because he wasn’t allowed to be fazed: his poverty – both literally, as he lived with his sister who was maid in some rich donya’s house in Forbes, and emotionally, given the questions he had about his mother – kept him from being superficial.
The craziness was Mindy’s territory: she who lights a fire in the dance studio’s bathroom and sees it as beautiful, she who has a violent boyfriend and goes to these parties filled with drinking and sexual libido, she who cries in the principal’s office because her life is horrible: her friends don’t support her, her father has a mistress, her mother’s in Virginia, her sister’s too caught up in her own wedding to care. Her instability – craziness, if you will – is clinical, something she takes medicines for, and something she was apparently sinking slowly into throughout the movie.
Mindy had obviously found solace in Agaton’s difference: he wasn’t of her world and wasn’t treating her like a baby. Agaton meanwhile found solace in Mindy’s craziness and devil-may-care attitude – bahala na si batman! was not something he was taught to say, but there he was running around the city, in love with Mindy.
This love of course was pregnant with all possible clichés, but here Gallaga switches it off and turns on the dancing. As their relationship deepens, it is the dancing that becomes consistent: they perfect the recital piece, dance about their love in real life, have sex in the dance studio wrapped around the long blue cloth to be used for stage. The dancing is their bubble: here their longing and desire were fulfilled. Here they were simply crazy about each other.
And yet it would be the dancing as well that would interweave the craziness in the outside world with the bubble. Agaton and Mindy love each other in the most basic way, and their worldsaren’t so much against it (that would be so Romeo and Juliet after all), as it was getting in the way. The relationship per se, the having sex, the commitment, even the difference in social class, were not the problems. The world was.
Because in that bigger world, Mindy was considered a clinical bipolar, and Agaton the normal talented scholar. In that bigger reality they moved in, Mindy’s father didn’t have a mistress because her mother did, and Agaton’s mother didn’t care for this boy she had left as a baby. In the bigger world, there was the teacher who loved dance with a longing, the sister who thought that the world revolved around her wedding, the principal who worried about the school’s reputation, the sister who was content as maid because there was nothing else.
In the end, Mindy contends with this craziness and sinks into melancholia, calling Agaton by his nickname Tonton but not seeing him. Agaton does the craziest thing: he climbs over the wall of Mindy’s house, throws pebbles at her window and as the light’s turned on, dances his heart out. The steps to his notion of love, the dance routine he had perfected with Mindy, were danced by Agatonalone, with the empty space where Mindy should’ve stood. It’s everything and poignant.
Denisa Reyes’ choreography was extraordinarily real here – more modern dance than anything else – allowing viewers to actually get involved in the dancing. The young leads Louse de los Reyes and Chase Vega were surprisingly effective, owing as well to how we have gotten used to self-conscious pretty TV acting in recent years. Both ably rendered the roles of people their age, without making it seem like they were just playing themselves. And then there is Cherie Gil, which is just priceless. That moment when she strikes a danseur’s pose in front of the mural for her obra was just beautiful in its pain and longing for her art. That she does it with a cigarette in one hand is classic Gallaga – it is irreverent and witty at times, but all the time real.
The scenes of Mindy’s suicidal tendencies, riddled with pills and vomit, blood against an ivory bridesmaid’s gown, a gun held at one point, were almost tounge-in-cheek, practically a “fuck you!” to the dismissal of youthful rebellions. The language is almost a paean to the present, a celebration of that which is articulated, because it is telling of the silences. The interspersed images of the separate real lives of Agaton and Mindy – beyond their bubble – were well thought out, not at all about being faddish or MTV-ish. This was no tribute to the youth, but was, more than anything a portrayal of the swiftness of contemporary times, of how we do everything to keep up, and are in over our heads – the young and the adults alike.
Which makes it logical that there was no happy ending here. What a joy. Because our own melancholia is Mindy’s, and Agaton’s craziness? It’s what we have said no to, those of us who are jaded about love. And the world.