Article by Vann Vicente.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
There is a character that is introduced in the middle of Ice Idanan’s ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating‘ named Manuel (JC Santos). Manuel is an attractive, well-educated and charming man, deeply rooted in the culture and tradition of his hometown, who attempts to capture the heart of our protagonist, Cielo (Alessandra de Rossi). In a more conventional romantic drama, Manuel would be the answer to Cielo’s heartbreak: a “true local” who abandons life in Singapore for a simpler existence in his hotel-lacking province – the exact opposite of her America-based ex-fiance.
In a very deliberate move, he never shows up again for the rest of the film’s running time. Manuel’s as a part of Cielo’s story, much like the various people she meets and the places she goes to, is only a fragment of her journey.
In this film, there are no significant conclusions or huge moments or grand realizations; just various disapparate parts of the process of slowly opening yourself up to the rest of the world. It is for that reason that ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating’ is an emotionally authentic take on aimlessness – the film’s offbeat pace, loose plotting and lack of a clean, straightforward resolution for its main character perfectly encapsulate the journey one undergoes when we look for meaning.
The film begins in a relatively straightforward manner. Cielo, having just ended a long relationship with her fiancé, Mark (Jay Gonzaga), moves into a leftover apartment from her previous relationship and becomes next-door neighbors with the kindhearted Paul (Pepe Herrera). She gets frequent flashbacks and nightmares of her relationship with her ex. After receiving painted postcards from various places around the Philippines, each of which has a poetic message on it, she decides to go on a trip to the different locations in each of the postcards upon Paul’s advice.
This first portion suffers from a few indie film cliches, like Cielo painting a drip-portrait of the Philippines on her wall or the skeptical but ultimately supportive parental figure, but these work decently well in giving us an insight into Cielo’s world outside Mark. It starts out somewhat unengaging – probably due to a lack of anything going on – but it quickly kicks off once she embarks on her trip.
During the journey, she sends Paul letters about her adventures. Pepe Herrera is well-cast in his role as a pining friend, receiving all these messages while being stuck – both emotionally and physically – back at home. His arc is a little less fleshed out than I would’ve hoped, but at least his ending is written smartly.
The camerawork here is a gorgeous and lively antidote to the gritty, alienating shots that have characterized much of recent Filipino indie cinema. There is an especially enthralling scene during the Vinta Regatta in Zamboanga where the camera hovers on the surface of the water, bouncing below and above the ocean, which is quite possibly the most brilliantly shot scene I’ve seen from Filipino cinema since last year.
Director, writer and cinematographer Ice Idanan clearly loves the Philippines, both explicitly, like in her shot selection and location-scouting, and implicitly, in the way she writes the characters and scenarios that Cielo encounters. From the girl who teaches her how to swim in Zamboanga, to the friendly men from Siquijor who help her learn how to ride a motorcycle, to her encounter with Manuel, there is a genuine goodness in all of them that she wants to put front and center.
The Manuel chapter dragged out – bogged down by a lack of chemistry between Santos and De Rossi – but it is possible that it was because what came after it was easily the best portion of the film.
About an hour into the movie, the plot shifts gears. We are transported to the farthest edge of the Philippines in Batanes, where a little girl named Sol (Therese Malvar in the film’s best performance) finds a box of painted postcards that she believes were from her missing father. She begins sending them, one by one, to an address in Quezon City.
It’s a brilliant act, not just because it breathes some life into Cielo’s story, but because Sol is a fascinating character to watch in her own right. Her motivations are largely the same as Cielo’s – to find meaning in the mysterious postcards, and discover something about her existence as well – but there is something incredibly magnetic about Malvar and the small town in Batanes where it was filmed that draws us into the world of this island. Idanan understands this. Instead of making this portion of the movie a throwaway exposition scene, it turns into a scene-stealer. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I would’ve probably been glad to watch just an entire movie worth of Sol.
Many say that this film is about finding oneself amidst heartache, but I feel that idea is only half true. The film ends as it began, with Cielo throwing her engagement ring from the picturesque high hills of Batanes, the same spot where Sol threw away the postcards she hoped would lead her to her father. Her search for ‘M’ ends with an answer, but not the one she wanted.
At the beginning of the film, she makes a remark that captures her conundrum best. “13 years,” she said. She’s been in a relationship for 13 years, and she’s afraid that it was all time wasted. The reason why this ending works so well is that it doesn’t really solve her problem. Instead, it tells us that it wasn’t a problem to begin with. Those 13 years in a failed relationship and those several months looking for something that never existed led her to accept that sometimes, there aren’t specific reasons for everything; that her experiences throughout the film’s duration were worthwhile. It is aimlessness at its best.
What did you think about ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating?’ Let us know in the comments below!