Above the Clouds: “Two lost strangers. One shared grief. One journey to conquer.”
After losing his parents during the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy, 15-year old Andy (Ruru Madrid) is forced to live with his estranged grandfather (Pepe Smith). Disconsolate, he withdraws from everyone around him, until his grandfather shows him old photographs of his parents on a hike. Together, they embark on a mountainous hike retracing his parents’ steps, in a spirited effort to overcome grief.
Critically acclaimed director Pepe Diokno gives us another story that is beautifully told, with raw emotions that make the film almost painful to watch at times. “Above the Clouds” premiered at the CCP last August 8, 2015, along with other Cinemalaya film entries.
Watching the film, we feel Andy’s grief and the isolation of his grandfather, whose name is never mentioned in the film. In my opinion, this mirrors the mystery that shrouds the grandfather since we didn’t get to dive deeper into his back story in the movie. Pepe Smith’s cool, nonchalant portrayal as the grandfather provides a few comical strokes that lightens the mood in a few scenes, which makes him a likeable character.
Although the grandfather is a bit of a recluse who doesn’t show much affection, his struggles with connecting to his grandson gradually fade with his attempts to show Andy his world in the mountains. We see this connection gradually develop from when the grandfather calls his grandson Andres, to his much preferred nickname, Andy.
“Above the Clouds” does away with the frills of random imagery and scattered symbolism. We get what we need to see, and absorb what we need to feel. It felt like every aspect of this movie was deliberate. The setting in Mount Pulag did not just serve as a stunning visual display nor a solitary retreat into the woods for the characters. It also helped to tell the story, as the mountain reflects the isolation felt by Andy and his grandfather, and the crushing loneliness of losing a loved one.
The score and the music soundtrack were also used as actual parts of the story, and not just to set the mood. The sweeping picturesque shots made us feel like we were in the mountains with the two characters. For most of the movie, it was a hide-and-seek situation. They both get lost and isolate themselves from each other, but eventually they find each other again and together embark the journey they set to conquer.
After the movie, I was able to catch up with Ruru Madrid, one of the film’s stars, and “Above the Clouds” director, Pepe Diokno.
Director Pepe Diokno had nothing but high praises for the young actor and he was impressed with Ruru’s acting chops. During filming, the cast and crew were not allowed to talk to Ruru to create an authentic feeling of isolation for him.
When Ruru showed up for the casting call for the role of Andy, he wasn’t actually aware that he would be working on a movie. But Director Pepe knew, upon seeing Ruru, that he was the one he wanted to play Andy. “It just felt right,” Direk Pepe quips.
Ruru shares that filming “Above the Clouds” was his first time to hike up Mount Pulag. Also, the well-mannered young actor found it a bit of a challenge to swear at his much older co-star, Pepe Smith, in some of the scenes.
Director Pepe Diokno, who has also suffered the loss of a loved one, poured his grief into this project. He set the movie in Mount Pulag because as a child, he would frequent the Mountain Province. Also, he explains that photos are a very vital element of the story of “Above the Clouds” as the photos were the reason for Andy and his grandfather’s journey.
I wasn’t able to chat with Pinoy rock legend and now indie film star Pepe Smith, but I was lucky enough to get a photo with him (plus my shirt matches his funky shoes). Direk Pepe says that Pepe Smith’s role as the grandfather is also based on life experiences of the seasoned musician. Elements of Smith’s real-life story were also borrowed and integrated into the film.
“Above the Clouds” magnifies the pain and loneliness felt during moments of loss. But if we learn anything from this movie, it is what Andy’s grandfather laments: Life is not about what you lost. It’s about what you do with what you’re left with.
Soulful and profound in all its simplicity against the backdrop of gorgeous sceneries, “Above the Clouds” lets the audience revel in raw emotion and feel hope, which is ultimately what Director Pepe Diokno wants the audience to take away from this film.