When the heart yearns for the pure and unadulterated, only to realize that reality obstructs what it desires, it creates in the pure’s stead a doppelganger: similar yet different; ethereal yet bastardized.

In Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus, Baltazar weaves four independent stories of four lonely men traversing the expanse of Quiapo and Recto in pursuit of a woman clad in a working uniform. Don’t let the title fool you, though; Hypothalamus isn’t a cheesy, “hugot”-filled romantic comedy, but rather, a deep, thought-provoking film that probes the depths of human emotion.

Dwein Baltazar, in her sophomore feature film, delivers Hypothalamus seven years after her first. It’s packaged realistically in its script but upon watching, one gets a sense of mystic magic in it.

The film breathes raw and sincere emotion against a backdrop of the busy streets of Manila. Offering an open interpretation of its text, it dares its audiences to probe into their own humanity in search of an explanation that best fits their lived experiences and condition.

It maintains a light-hearted tone, but that, in itself, is the film’s challenge to the audience. It forces them to think of its underlying themes: Are things really what they present themselves to be, or does something more sinister lie subtly underneath?

The woman in question is Aileen, played by Iana Bernandez in a magnetic debut performance. Iana was able to perfectly capture the allure of Aileen; you can’t help but be drawn to the mysticism of her character. Pursuing her are hopeless romantic Caloy (Niccolo Manalo), sexually desperate widower Lando (Soliman Cruz), hormonally-charged student Alex (Dylan Ray Talon), and lonesome mute ex-convict Obeng (Anthony Falcon), whose performances make for an electric film with eerily natural lines of dialogue and characteristics that blend well into the film’s world backdrop.

Even the setting of Manila is a character in its own. Every location is bursting with activity that gives one a taste of the miasmic district where one could disappear amongst the crowd of faces, losing oneself in the process. It all fits brilliantly. Aileen gives life to these four men against the separation and mundaneness of their lives.

To them, Aileen is an ideal. And she is. She was never a real person in her sake. She, as an ideal, belongs to them.

The Idea of Aileen fills the movie with a rare taste of sincerity in search of real emotion. We are grasped by an immense feeling of longing for the ideal, as we see nothing but that of what we seek. What materializes may not be real, but as long as it’s pure, it is so to the beholder. Whereas the previous milieu of films throughout the years is left bitter with the pang of realism, in Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus, we got to see a welcome story– one that dares us to dream in search of our own Aileen.

But this is just one way to look at this movie. The movie may yet be an inspection of the insidious.

Hypothalamus may also be read as an examination of the decay and filth of the male ego as it constantly and desperately looks at the superficial. The ideal of Aileen may be a lie, forged by the damned to deny its corruption. In Hypothalamus, the female is entangled and shaped by the male gaze – to quell lust, anxiety, anger, and to look for salvation and retribution, all while palleted by the rotting Manila. To them, Aileen is an escape.

A worse idea is that Aileen may have been, at one point, a real person. That is, until she no longer is, as she is dehumanized to fit into the men’s own ideal. In our obsession for perfection, we fail to see ourselves succumb towards malediction, bringing others with us.

Hypothalamus is about the sincere innocence of infatuation with the ideal, or it may as well be about the projection of our maladious desires, guised as something ethereal. It’s up to you. This is Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’ charm; constantly challenging our perception so that we may test our own humanity.

Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus opens nationwide in select theaters on August 15.

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