The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Away From the Title: The Natural Phenomenon of Madness

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By Tito Genova Valiente

A woman meets up with her rapist. They spend a great deal of time talking about something else, some other persons other than themselves. They never talk about the rape and they really never dwell about them being together, or even apart.

The man and the woman have no biographies. The story is not clear about their genealogies, nor are their psychologies revealed to us, or at least hinted. Thus, with the absence of any past that may ingratiate the two to us, in forms of sympathies and empathies, we expect the audience to be voyeurs, eyes stuck close to peeping holes and silent and silenced as they view the events transpire and pass by. With no future in the horizon for these two beings, they thrill us for the open spaces of relationships that the film opens with a lovemaking scene, without the love, and without the woman seemingly enjoying it. We assume the man enjoyed the act on the premise that for men, the acknowledged initiator of any kind of coupling, any sex act is always delicious.

Other than the violent gestures, there is nothing at all in that opening scene that can make us think a rape has indeed taken place. But for the woman it was a rape. For the man, he makes no conclusion, offers no explanation. He offers at least a relationship.

After that frenzied act, the man leaves in haste; the woman cuts her hair. Soon the face that is comely is transformed into a threatening mask. The face asks for no admiration; the face demands no second look.

If in the ordinary days of couple, sex or love allows a woman to bloom, to become in the soft way, lovely, here the woman is made ugly by the sexual act. The love that furtively eases into a communion of the flesh is irredeemably destructive. What makes this film unusual and brave is that the man goes away but is not left unpunished. He lives in stasis. When the woman talks with him, he is situated against the bleakest wall. Sometimes, they face up front, but not confrontational for there is no other source of conflict outside them. Inside them lives the conflicted.

Towards the middle, the film begins to meander, as the woman starts moving from one place to another. She goes to a hospital. She walks up to an apartment and converses with a man who seems to share a past with her. The partner of the man is a homosexual, arrogant and terribly protective of his man.

What ties this man and the homosexual? What gives this homosexual a strong ownership over his man? The way they cling to each other does not warrant the question because in this community of urgent and strange lovers, there seems no formula for love lost and love gained.

Is this the madness in the title?

My biff with the film The Natural Phenomenon of Madness is that I do not see the connection between the title and the story. That the title is in English further creates the distance from and dissonance with regard to the narrative of the film.

Perhaps, I am being simplistic in responding to the complexity of this film.

The film draws its potency from performances that are soaked in intensity and lurid anonymity. The two leads are the pivot for the film. Jess Mendoza challenges our notion of the rapist: he is laidback and yet also inscrutable. His mystery is more of a timid lover than a sly stalker. He is swarthy and handsome in a rakish way. One can be sexist enough to say women are bound to have designs on him than he having malicious plans on women.

Opaline Santos will always be the odd leading lady out. With the body of a boy and the face unlined by age or anger, she is a human inkblot to which we respond with our own angst about love and sex and the failure of relationships. For this actor, the act of shearing her hair is a change of hair and a change of heart. It is a heart that survives in the sad memories and in those events she would not rather recall.

Both the characters essayed by Santos and Mendoza are not the type one lines up on gallery walls of heroes and heroines. Their persons are reminders of what happens when a film removes the ribbons and the buntings and unwraps the box full of rotting perishable items. The film The Natural Phenomenon of Madness is forever tentative in its ideologies about men and women constructing and destroying each other.

Shot in black and white and situated in limbo, the film is caught between redemption and condemnation, which is more credible than any assurance of a romance.

Charliebebs S. Gohetia directs this bleak and, sometimes, distracted meditation on life and pairings. Gohetia is the same person behind the wonderfully free-spirited romp, Thank You, Girls, a tale of local drag queens moving from one beauty pageant to another, dragging with them their ego and their poverty. The title refers to what the emcee tells those who do not make it the circle of would-be winners. The words “thank-you-girls” means good riddance. Their beauty pageant may be a pretend competition but the results leave permanent scars and joys in the soul of the beauty queens.

As in that moveable beauty pageant, this film about madness announces to one and all how violation of persons, because they are part of intimate territories, becomes official holidays for logic and common sense. When reasons observe their rest days, sex and love, the purveyor of the order of things, take over the affairs of men and women. Rules of kinship, life, and even death make grand transit trips. Men and women speak past each other and the absurdity—madness, too—of living dominate the landscape in stylized monochrome.