If you ask me what I love the most about Ang Nawawala, I would have a hard time answering your question. Is it the way the movie captured the romance and heartbreaks of adolescence? Is it the emotional weight of the family drama that meditated on loss and letting go of the past? Is it the way the music became a distinct entity because of its overpowering presence, the way it occupied the interiors of those cramped bars and kept on expanding and expanding until it became utterly, beautifully uncontainable? It is definitely all of these, but I won’t ever be able to accurately and completely put into words what I loved about Marie Jamora’s film because its sum is infinitely greater than its well-crafted parts.
Part of why Ang Nawawala is able to achieve something special is because of the way it projects tiny, precious moments, like watching a gig and trying to read the body language of the person you like or smoking weed with them together in a car and inhaling each other’s breaths, and how it blows them up into scenes that are bigger than life itself. It perfectly captures the state of falling in love, when every little thing takes on an extra significance. Things feel more overwhelming. They feel more real. Yes the movie has a pervasive twee sensibility that may annoy certain viewers, but isn’t that what we feel or at least what we hope we would feel when someone captures our hearts?
Ang Nawawala tells the story of Gibson (Dominic Roco), a twenty year old who tries a shot at a real romantic relationship with the alluring Enid (Annicka Dolonius) amidst the electrifying local underground music scene, featuring indie acts such as Outerhope, Ang Bandang Shirley, The Strangeness, Flying Ipis, Hannah + Gabi and Tarsius. The synchronicity of affect between the movie’s music and plot is remarkably done, showing the painstaking efforts of Jamora to achieve an extraordinary completeness and unity in her debut movie. This film apparently spent almost ten years in development, and the care and affection placed into it shows in every shot. Even the opening sequence is already a delight to watch.
Gibson though has a particular quirk – he stopped talking as a child after he witnessed a tragic accident that shook his family to its core. Roco turns in a low key performance that has its flaws. Sometimes there is a blankness that registers in his face that makes me want him to be more present. But even then, his silence speaks volumes about his repressed self. In the absence of speech, he contains within him the torrent of emotions that he reserves for himself and he carefully curates what he chooses to communicate with others through the language of music and notes left on cellphone screens.
Visually, the movie is influenced by the aesthetic of other auteurs such as Quentin Tarantino, Wong Kar Wai and especially Wes Anderson. In fact Gibson’s father’s name is Wes (Bobby Garrovillo), probably an homage to the man whose penchant for symmetry and clean framing was adopted by Jamora. The movie is also boosted by excellent supporting performances, especially of Dawn Zulueta as Gibson’s mom, a woman who still has yet to come to terms with a painful loss.
Ang Nawawala deals with what happens with the pieces of our lives that are taken away from us, those that cease to exist but continue to linger. The unescapable specters that haunt us and continue to define who we are. Those moments that Ang Bandang Shirley sings about when they say ‘di na babalik ang pagtingin, ‘di nagwawala ang damdamin. Because even if they are missing, they’re still always, unmistakably there.