By Bronte Lacsamana
In a culture where rom-coms of drama and spectacle dominate the box office, Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa provides a fresh Philippine indie approach on the complications of a relationship.
Initially intended as director Nestor Abrogena’s short film requirement for a master’s degree in filmmaking, this most recent feature-length edition explores the small, quiet moments which ensue between the protagonists in the urban spaces of Manila.
Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Emmanuelle Vera) are facing a certain obstacle keeping them from total commitment. The film dances around this obstacle for the most part, leaving it as a plot twist at the very end, after the characters have been humanized and portrayed in a way that makes them relatable.
“Natutuwa akong nakakaintindi ang mga audiences sa relasyon nina Sam at Isa. May mga bagay kasi na nangyayari lang, na hindi pwede pero gusto pa rin gawin,” Abrogena said.
Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa focuses on brief looks exchanged, hands momentarily held, as well as other subtleties which occur in scenes meant to be uneventful. Its two-year struggle to gain viewership reflects the struggle of independent films to find audiences, and it seems that after being picked up by Cinema 76 and SM Cinemas, there is hope for indie filmmakers after all.
The film relies heavily on the atmosphere created by the characters as they commute and interact in school. Without any context, their shared silence can be frustrating at times, not holding up for the entire length of the film, although it seems to pay off once the movie ends.
Perhaps in its original form as a shorter film it would have worked better, and the narrative would not have appeared so sparse.
In the open forum that took place after the screening in UP Diliman, Abrogena justified the thin storyline after the absence of character backgrounds was questioned.
“Kwento nga nilang dalawa, at wala ng ibang kwento,” he firmly said.
He also talked about the planned sequel, “Set siya five years after. Kakamustahin ang characters, aalamin kung saan na sila napunta, at ipapakilala na rin mga pamilya nila.”
Abrogena stressed that he never expected the film to garner much attention, as it had been screening for two years until SM Cinemas took notice earlier this year, highlighting the film’s cross from indie to mainstream audiences despite its low budget and sophisticated approach.
With beautifully composed shots that add to the raw performances of the leads, the production transcends its independent roots. Manalo shared that the scenes are “mostly improvised, except for a few talking points, which leaves room for realness of emotions.”
In fact, the film portrays excellently the feeling of being in the company of someone you love despite complications. This vibe is most evident when the couple talks while walking from one transit line to another, and when Sam has a moment of tenderness as Isa falls asleep on him in the LRT.
Although it struggles to sustain the subtle mood for the length of the film, it is redeemed by its best attribute–the objectivity of its portrayal of Sam and Isa’s romance, clear of any ethical judgment as it neither glamorizes nor demonizes the kind of relationship they are in.
Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa has the light and visually poignant moments that a usual rom-com contains, but even with the narrative nearly unfitting for a feature-length film, behind it is a story that was evidently thought-out and reminiscent of Philippine indie approach.