Distance tells a quiet domestic drama on love and gender
Nonie Buencamino and Iza Calzado in a scene from the Perci Intalan film that gives viewers a space to reflect on the repercussions when people choose to love.
Distance tells a quiet domestic drama on love and gender
Jerry Donato (The Philippine Star) - September 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — “Long time no see” and “Come in” form the “exposition” dialogues of Anton and Liza, played by ever reliable actors Nonie Buencamino and Iza Calzado, in the 2018 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival entry Distance. It now streams on Netflix. They talk and treat each other civilly in the same scene. Anton and Liza successfully hide any traces of their past as husband and wife.

With his series of extreme long and wide shots in the early part of the movie, director Perci Intalan sets the narrative tone and promises a quiet, heartfelt family narrative. The quietness emanates from the silence in the scenes and the pauses characters take, no hurried conversations just casual, mature ones, especially those of Anton and Liza.

Distance has distanced and deviated itself from the melodrama stereotypes (characterized by talky, emotionally-charged dramatis personae). There’s subtlety in how characters deal with their state of mind (grief, anger, love, acceptance and forgiveness). Viewers can feel that strongly as the drama gives them the distance and space to get into the emotional reality of Anton and Liza. It’s a contemplative space for viewers to sympathize.

Anton, the padre de familia has a big heart to give the matriarch another chance at coming back home after five years of absence. He feels the need to be her “anchor or balance” as she grieves. It is also a case of marital problem wherein children are scarred. Anton and Liza’s Karla, the older sister (Therese Malvar) and Therese (Alessandra Malonzo) represent the bui doi, the left-behind kids. They doubt about Liza’s decision to live with them again. Is it for good or for a limited time? The kids dread the possibility of mom leaving the family again (an act somehow reminiscent that of Henrik Ibsen’s Nora Helmer).

Between the two, it’s Therese who is welcoming to Liza, who tries to catch up by recreating memories of the past (preparing a favorite snack, attending a school activity, dining out and cooking food for the family). As for Karla, she takes things in stride.

Alright, Liza is the one who has abandoned the family, the conflict that haunts the family. It is the cause for them to feel distant and uneasy at home. But her lover’s identity remains unknown until after Karla has met Adi, a senior female actor-member of the former’s theater organization in college. They both like each other. A flashback reveals that Karla knows the truth: Her mom has had a relationship with another woman, aunt Jen.

When Karla can’t contain her anger towards mom, she says her piece and tells Liza to ask for forgiveness. With a long pause or silence, the mom has finally managed to utter: “Sorry.” The emotions have died down.
Distance is a study about choices one makes in the name of love. Liza does the unpopular decision to live with her true love, Jen, (who dies later on) at the expense of her family. Anton also does the unpopular decision to welcome Liza again warts and all.

“Maraming mga tao sa paligid ko noon na nagsasabi na malaking tragedy daw itong pagmamahal ko sa’yo (Many people told me that my love for you is tragedy) but I saw this as something beautiful,” said he, who believes in the now. “What I know is I chose to love you and I still choose to do so,” added Anton.

After the confrontation between Liza and Karla with Therese and Anton as witnesses, they have their breakfast together as family the following day. The distance between mom and daughters is undeniable. Anton leaves ahead of everyone for work, while children follow suit (for school) and so mom does. From the main portal (door) scene, the camera pans to the empty dining area (with the house help clearing the table). It is a subtle, meaningful resolution to distance as a conflict: To give Liza and Karla the space to reflect on forgiveness and love. Through time, they will get healed.

Distance is a well-told family drama that handles the binary kind of love (man to woman, woman to man) and the emerging (woman-to-woman) love with respect. It reminds one that love is love and it knows no gender.

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