Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Minsan Pa: The Camera Obscured and Luna’s Vision

At the heart of the film Minsan Pa is a camera, a repository of visions, in the realms of real and symbolic, of Luna (Ara Mina): her past, present, and potentially her future.

Filmed entirely in Cebu, it stars Jomari Yllana as Jerry, a tour guide to the “Queen City of the South” for local and foreign, mostly Japanese, tourists. He sells not only the sites and sounds of Cebu, but also pimps the women and eventually prostitutes himself. He sustains his role as the patriarch of the family through commissions and tips, and has mastered the art of bartering favors. There is goodness in Jerry as he sacrifices his own needs and wants for his mother and two siblings. But there is no such thing as a free lunch for him; everything has a price, including how much he helped his younger brother. Jerry, the tour guide, knows the landscapes of Cebu but is misguided in the landscapes of the heart.

Luna is a pre-school teacher who joined one of Jerry’s tours and is apparently running away from her philandering boyfriend, Alex. The whole trip, she holds her camera almost all the time, like a security blanket, ready to shoot (and even used it to shut up an irritating boy). Alex follows her to Cebu to woo her. On a boating trip, the camera accidentally falls off the boat (which could have been avoided if she had the good sense to put the strap around her neck). Alex proposes marriage but reneges on his marriage proposal as he is blinded, physically and emotionally. Luna goes back to Cebu and, with the help of Jerry, goes on a mission to recover the camera.

Jerry’s affection for Luna grows as he misinterprets Luna’s trip as a sign of reciprocal affection. Thinking that Luna is weakened when Alex left her, Jerry professes love and protection to Luna. Sadly, for Jerry, his love is unrequited. He is weakened by his inability to give, to help, and to love without expecting anything in return. His selfish notions about love blind him.

To be photographed is to bear witness to one’s presence, as Pierre Bourdieu posited. Luna photographs Alex, to affirm his presence in her life, to affirm a time of happiness, as Luna’s presence in Alex’s life is also affirmed. The camera is a witness of, and an affirmation, of Luna’s visions of happiness and the potentials of a future. As the camera is symbolically obscured underneath the deep dark sea, the vision grows dim. The loss of Alex’s vision is symbolic of his loss of power and the ability to gaze. Alex thinks that his blindness weakens him, and he doubts Luna’s love for him. For Luna, the recovery of the camera, and the images of their happiness it contains, is evidence that they shared a past and have a chance for a future.

Luna’s strength shines through the movie despite the very macho Jerry who thinks she is a damsel-in-distress to be saved. She who stands at the door of the hotel, deciding whether to invite Jerry to dinner, or not; she who has the strength to repel the advances of Jerry. It is the same strength that remains steadfast in her vision of a life with Alex, with or without his sight. It is Luna who holds the camera; the woman is the bearer of the gaze.

Luna’s name (moon as light source, photography as “light writing”) bears her vision: to shed light on two blind and weak men. Luna sheds light on the obscured goodness in Jerry’s heart blinded by selfishness. Her love shines bright through the blinded heart of Alex. It is Luna who enables the two men to regain a vision of themselves, and inevitably, to “see” again.

Defying the laws of probability and even of possibility that the camera and the film will survive the ravages of the sea, it is the audience, who will behold the visions of Luna - images etched on the silver coated negative, projected on the silver screen of the cinema house at the end of the film. In Minsan Pa, cinema revisits its predecessor and pays homage to the camera (and the camera obscura) as it embarks on a journey of enlightenment, on a fulfillment of a woman’s vision, of a truth it wanted to reveal: what is essential is invisible to the eye.

(Appeared in Young Critics Circle Film Desk’s Sine-Sipat: Recasting Roles and Images-Stars, Awards and Criticism for 2004, March 2005.)

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