All’s well that ends well

Ferdinand S. Topacio - The Philippine Star
All�s well that ends well

Film review: Ikaw At Ako At Ang Ending

MANILA, Philippines — Irene Villamor’s latest opus, Ikaw At Ako At Ang Ending, is a movie that beats all expectations. Starring two of the best comic actors in the country today — real-life sweethearts Jerald Napoles and Kim Molina — it is mostly a drama that plays out its comedy darkly and subtly.

Basically, a love story, it features two lovers whose characters are far from “cute” or even typical. A small movie in terms of budget, cast and location, it nonetheless transcends its diminutiveness by relating its narrative to world and national events as they happen during its setting. Add to this a well-written and intelligent script and innovative camera work, and you have a film that is watchable while being thought-provoking.

Molina plays Mylene, an orphan who grew up in the streets of Tondo, spent a decade as a prostitute but ended up working as a chambermaid in a seaside resort in Ilocos Norte. Thereto flees and hides Martin (Napoles), a man with an equally shady past, the bagman slash hitman of a local politician who has absconded with a lot of the latter’s money. Martin is estranged from his wife and son who, after finding out what his real job is, would have nothing to do with him, not even a phone call during his son’s birthday.

Mylene, having grown up in the big city, feels alienated in provincial Pagudpod, vainly waiting for even a single phone call from family or friends. It is in such a state of abject depression that Mylene and Martin meet. And in the way that two lost souls find each other, they get together, get acquainted and fall in love.

But there is no happily-ever-after in this story. After spending several euphoric days together (by spending the politician’s ill-gotten loot), reality soon begins to creep back into our lovers’ lives. Martin’s location is discovered, and the couple need to hurriedly flee the resort to live in fear and in more austere surroundings, as the politico has sent people to kill Martin. As it turns out, Mylene is also living on borrowed time, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a few months to live. How our star-crossed couple deals with the bad hand that fate has dealt them is the main catharsis of the movie.

Molina and Napoles act up a storm in their deft reading of Villamor’s profoundly nihilistic script. Admirably, both have resisted descending into the bathos that such writing oftentimes tempts its actors; instead, both leads admirably under-act, giving just enough hint of the complex emotional turmoil seething beneath the surface. It helps that the screenplay provides for a well-thought-out backstory for its main characters to play around with. Thus, both Mylene and Martin emerge as two totally believable onscreen personas, so much so that the viewer can become quite emotionally invested in them. Verily, Molina may not have your usual movie star looks, but she may be the most underrated dramatic actress around.

The story is all about sin and redemption, hope and despair, of seeking absolution after horrible acts have been committed by the two protagonists. In this, both Mylene and Martin appear to be irredeemable: Martin undoubtedly loves his family, but he refuses to depart from the life of crime that has driven them away. In fact, he betrays his boss and, by way of reprisal for a seeming betrayal by a friend, does not hesitate to kill again. Mylene appears to have genuinely fallen for Martin and goes to bed with him, but then asks for money after they have had intercourse. To a bewildered Martin, she explains, “Pokpok pa rin naman ako.” She also does not hesitate to be Martin’s accomplice in a scheme to get away with the money he has stolen. In sum, there are no likeable heroes here, only fatally-flawed characters frantically trying to answer the question they repeatedly ask themselves internally — what is the meaning of life? — and trying to find it in their twisted and desperate desire for each other.

Set at a time before the full-on onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, Ikaw at Ako At Ang Ending creates an atmosphere of sadness and foreboding, but not of the tearjerker variety. Viewers will not reach for their hankies while watching this movie. They will, however, search deep within their souls for the answer to the film’s fundamental thematic queries, aside from life’s meaning, and that is, whether good intentions can cover up evil deeds; whether a virtuous present can compensate for a wicked past; and — as the ending evokes as the lovers’ car speeds down an apparently endless road — when and where will it all end, and whether all that’s well will truly end well.

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