COVER STORY:Teenage dream no more
Margarita Buenaventura (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The beauty of cinema is its ability to memorialize anything into a nifty time capsule. On film, fleeting moments remain preserved; their images and sounds safe even from the test of time. The love team of Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla has had five years worth of these time capsules. To audiences, they will forever remain the Kathniel in It Must Be Love, She’s Dating the Gangster, and Crazy Beautiful You. It’s hard to see them as anything but blushing teenagers on the brink of young love.

What we don’t notice is that one of the most successful love teams of all time has transformed. They are, in fact, no more a love team than peanut butter and jelly is. Kathniel has become a partnership — two grown-up people navigating their careers together and on their own. The kilig, the romance, the light fleeting moments — they’re all still there. But in the last few years, one will notice the deft maneuvering of Kathniel into older, more seasoned territory. Just this year, they had a chance to make their political inclinations known by actively campaigning during the national elections. Their last teleserye, Pangako Sa’Yo, was a widely successful remake of a beloved television show of the early aughts. (The Kantar Media National Household TV Ratings of its pilot and finale episodes still beat the primetime shows of other love teams.) And now, Kathniel makes an even bolder statement with the film Barcelona: A Love Untold, a romantic-drama that claims to prove just how much they have truly grown up.

Ibang-iba na kami dito,” says Padilla about their latest roles. “Yung mga characters namin sa Crazy Beautiful You or She’s Dating the Gangster mas pa-kilig, mas tweetums, mas light.” He goes on to say that while there is still lightness in their new characters (“Hindi naman lahat ng eksena, iyak tayo nang iyak”), there is a difference in the way they handled both drama and comedy, a subtle shift that their audience has never seen in any of the work they’ve ever done.

‘A Love Untold’

Set in the titular Spanish city, Barcelona tells the story of Ely (Padilla) and Mia (Bernardo), who run into each other by chance and discover how their coincidental meeting was more fateful than they thought. The material is certainly different from Bernardo and Padilla’s previous offerings, and they have made no secret that working with Lamasan had been one of their most challenging undertakings. Lamasan is a local hero in the romantic film genre, having directed iconic films such as Milan, Got 2 Believe (both of which starred Rico Yan and Claudine Barretto) and the 1995 Sana Maulit Muli, which put Aga Muhlach and Lea Salonga on the big screen together. When she finally took on the job of directing one of the biggest teen pairings in the last decade, it seemed like an implicit announcement that Kathniel is moving on to the big leagues. And the people around them, it seems, think that they’re more than ready for it.

Screenwriter Carmi Raymundo is one of them. Raymundo’s writing credits include Kathniel films like Crazy Beautiful and She’s Dating, but also one of the most beloved stories in local cinema: she penned both One More Chance and its sequel A Second Chance starring yet another widely successful love team, that of John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. For all her experience with working with both Kathniel and other love teams, Raymundo makes it clear that it was only Barcelona where she finally observed the seriousness and sophistication in Bernardo and Padilla’s acting work.

Ngayon ko naramdaman yung appreciation nila sa craft. Siyempre before, nandoon yung excitement, eh. Gumagawa sila ng pelikula, naglalaro sila. More of ine-enjoy lang in the past few movies,” shares Raymundo. “Ngayon ko sobrang nakita na iba. Iba na talaga yung focus ng dalawa. Even in terms of honesty.”

Honesty, Vulnerability

Raymundo says that she was amazed at how Bernardo and Padilla opened themselves up in order to relate to their characters more. “Nagulat ako that they would say that,” Raymundo recalls, “that Kathryn would share her fears, and pati kanyang mga hopes and dreams. Pati si Daniel. Sa tagal naming magkatrabaho, ngayon ko lang narinig ‘yun.

That vulnerability was something that Bernardo and Padilla say helped them unlock another side of their own acting, saying that Lamasan’s directing methods were equal parts difficult and freeing. During the press conference of their film, Padilla opened up that Lamasan would write “inner monologues” for their characters to help them convey what they want to say — without saying a word. “Marami kaming eksena na puro tinginan, and hindi pwedeng walang ibig-sabihin yun eh,” Padilla says. “So mas may halaga pa siya sa mga may linyang eksena. Binibigyan kami ng mga paper, tapos may nakasulat. In character ‘yun. Tapos automatic, tatamaan ka.”

It also helped that they opened themselves to the idea of mining through their own personal relationships in order to create a persona for their character. Bernardo recalls how she would listen to songs from years ago just to recall certain emotions. “Marami kaming nahukay sa baul,” she says with a laugh. “May mga emotions kaming nagamit na nangyari years ago, as Daniel and Kathryn.”

No Siestas in Barcelona

But despite the tenderness in every scene, Padilla and Bernardo recall that behind the scenes had been a 24/7 hustle. Sometimes, they would end scenes in tears, out of relief that they had overcome yet another hurdle. Simple walking shots would require multiple takes. In the midst of Barcelona’s relaxed vibe was a film crew whose work extended to the actors themselves. “Walang star-star doon,” Daniel says, explaining that they had become de facto members of the crew in some ways. “Yung mga Español lang ‘yung pwede mag-siesta.

The hustle is not new to Kathniel. Even as promotions for the film were ongoing, they were still finishing up some of the B-roll for Barcelona — just weeks before the worldwide premiere. As of press time, Bernardo and Padilla would have already gone to New York, gone back to Manila, flown to Bangkok (for one of Bernardo’s endorsement shoots), and back to Manila for premiere night. And one can imagine that this is a regular part of their lives, for the last five years. It bears asking how they’ve managed to keep the ship from sinking, in a time where attention spans and interests are shorter and more fickle than ever.

Padilla explains that relevance should always be partnered with a consistently fresh take on an age-old formula. Love teams are always love teams, but the approach should always be different. “Kasi siyempre, tayo din naman viewers. ‘Pag may gusto tayong tao or love team, ‘yun din ‘yung hinahanap natin, yung bago,” Padilla says. “Lagi ka dapat open ears, hindi pwedeng blocked ka lang. Kung hindi man bago, may something. Like, ngayon, pareho kaming may bagong buhok.

A Conscious Effort

Bernardo laughs as she looks at his unstyled coif, a center-parted style by way of ‘90s boy bands and a young Johnny Depp. Her own hair has been equally transformed: light brown in loose waves, similar to the styles sported by many Spanish women.

“Conscious effort siya,” Kathryn offers, explaining that their love team is just as much strategic as it is romantic. “At the start of every project, sinasabi namin sa creatives, nagawa na namin yan, so pwedeng ibahin naman natin. Kailangan din kasi maging aware na dapat iba yung ma-offer mo, para interesting ka.

That is something they’ve certainly done. By calling the shots, Kathniel has been able to carve a very nice niche for themselves, one that allows them to transcend from cliches and irrelevance by proving how their talents have overshadowed their kilig factor. Even Raymundo claims to have never been a Kathniel fan (despite their repeated collaborations) but changed her mind after making Barcelona.

Years from now, Barcelona will once again act as a time capsule for Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla — their youth and romance carefully preserved. But it’ll also mark their steady transition into adulthood, where they will soon face different challenges, different people, and even different versions of each other. As for the audience, they may find themselves flocking to watch this film for different reasons. When one watched the younger Kathniel to see them fall in love, they will soon see the couple growing up this time around. As for what else Bernardo and Padilla would like to do in the future, whether together or apart, they’re not quite sure yet.

Mahal, ikaw muna sumagot,” Padilla tells his partner.

“You, what do you want?” she answers him.

He laughs at her, but there’s softness in his voice. “Parang umo-order lang tayo ah.”

“One pizza and chicken, please,” Bernardo declares.

Sure, they’ve grown up. But it seems that some things will remain the same.

* * *

Tweet the author @margabee.

 

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