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Todo Todo Teros: Examining the pain behind geopolitical romance

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By Mike Rapatan

The recent World Trade Center 9/11 disaster has firmly etched in the public consciousness the horrors of international terrorism. This 21st century tragedy has stirred diverse responses from different filmmakers who have portrayed in varying scales the seismic changes that have reshaped world affairs. On one end of the spectrum, one finds filmmakers who have produced epic movies with apocalyptic doomsday scenarios of a global meltdown while on the opposite side are other filmmakers with their personal films that probe the psyche of the wounded who mourn and struggle and cope with the loss of their beloved.

Of these two groups, John Torres in his intriguing film titled “Todo Todo Teros” has allied himself with the latter. As suggested by his title (Torres said in an interview that the word teros was a combination of terrorism and eros), he explores in his main character’s relationship with a certain Olga and his wife the complexities of geopolitical romance amidst the turmoil of global security. The film’s premise sounds like the stuff one sees in an escapist espionage thriller or in a didactic rant about the marginalized victims of terrorism. But Torres resists these forms and instead, endeavors to take the audience on a self-reflexive journey of realizing how the terrorist impulse lurks in everyone.

For Torres, terrorism can be disguised as love and it is only when relationships are tested that one feels the suffocating claws of desire. Rather than take a strident tone, Torres delivers this thesis with a furtive sounding narration that suggests the voice of a restive individual seeking pardon for the violations he has committed or inflicted on others (absolution is one motif that runs in the film such as in one sequence where the off-screen narrator advises a tourist under interrogation by immigration to seek absolution for crimes he may have committed). In spite of the occasional comments about the country’s pre-colonial and colonial past and references to terrorism alerts via onscreen text or intertitles, Torres focuses on and sustains the confessional mood with a melancholic piano music floating in the background every now and then. He reveals the source of the narrator’s examination of conscience by exposing the heartfelt sting of his guilt and betrayal that his wife experiences upon seeing shreds of evidence of his affair with Olga. By unraveling the angst that pierces these characters, Torres eschews propaganda and relocates the polemic to the poetic sphere.

This may appear to be the film’s singular achievement. But what is more remarkable than this is the fact that the film’s scenes were not originally shot to convey such a story. With his found footage sensibility, Torres has assembled together from his personal archive of home movies various video files taken from different times and places and creatively pieced together the film that we see. Like Dziga Vertov’s kino eye where film footage appears as ciphers until they are welded by the fire of imagination, Torres’ critical mind and empathetic heart finds a way to establish the meaningful intersections of various clips and in a post-modern pastiche style link the disparate parts into an engaging whole.

Consequently, the film is a child of editing and sound. Some may see this as a major weakness of the film since the film relies on sound to make it sensible and accessible. Turn off the sound and the film collapses into a series of discordant images. But then again one can ask when the filmmaking process is entirely devoid of construction. In many films, film images do not have a prior life of their own and filmmakers use other elements aside from sound to make the images more understandable and communicate a reality which the filmmaker may not have originally intended. What Torres then has done in this film is to exercise that aesthetic and present a timely and compelling insight on a troubling contemporary problem.