‘Ulan’ teaches us to behold love for what it is: an overwhelming thing

The more romantic or melodramatic among us see emotion as something hungry and feral. You begin to love a person and something 10 times your size takes you in its cavern jaws and swallows you whole. I’ve been thinking a lot about how maybe love — as a feeling, experience, or reality — shouldn’t be a monster that absolutely consumes you or a thing that you are inside of, but something you can hold inside you.

Not a lot of people get that, I think. Maya (played by Nadine Lustre) doesn’t get that, not at the start of HOOQ’s first original film Ulan. In the beginning, she walks in the rain to visit and confess to a childhood friend, when she discovers he’s a married father. She pins this misfortune on the weather, says that ever since she was a child, the appearance of rain would foretell heartbreak. Only for her, though. One childhood memory shows Maya witnessing a tikbalang wedding in the middle of a sunshower, as the horse-headed bride telling this sweet, befuddled child — who was just told by her superstitious lola that the heavens forbid this kind of love — that true love can weather any storm.

 

What is the price to pay for true love? Heartbreak on heartbreak? Is there a proper way to let love consume us? What do we owe the heavens to finally be happy?

 

But immediately, her pining is punished. This is what you get for waiting, for betting on the beauty of an uncertain thing. Throughout Ulan, Maya’s attempts to be vulnerable are thwarted at almost every turn. What is the price to pay for true love? Heartbreak on heartbreak? Is there a proper way to let love consume us? What do we owe the heavens to finally be happy? These are complicated questions, and Ulan recruits an army of elements to answer them. The narrative is constantly propelled forward by flashbacks, giving the story a non-linear feel, as if the film were forming a mosaic of Maya’s inner world, piece by piece. References to the fantastical abound in this film, giving a strange flavor to what would otherwise be earthly experiences of feeling. An exquisite score carries the story as well, and director Irene Villamor treats almost every frame like a painting. Narratives filtered through the lens of superstition, memory, fantasy and disillusioning truths collide in Ulan, like tears striking pavement and pooling into a full flood of feeling.

Ever-present, of course, is the rain — a force of nature beyond one’s control that can be either kind or cruel. You can either be swept up in its gusts, or you can hold your arm out from under an awning just to feel the water tip-tap on your skin. You run for cover when the typhoon rolls in, you lament during droughts. Rain is weird, but so is the heart. How do you test what the heart can take?

This is the part where I tell you love is no fairy tale, but we all know that already. Easy to reject a metanarrative; harder to figure out what fills the hole of “fairy tale.” Even more so trying to accept the possibility that there is nothing but the void itself. A drought of things to believe in.

 

Ever-present, of course, is the rain — a force of nature beyond one’s control that can be either kind or cruel. You can either be swept up in its gusts, or you can hold your arm out from under an awning just to feel the water tip-tap on your skin. You run for cover when the typhoon rolls in, you lament during droughts. Rain is weird, but so is the heart. How do you test what the heart can take?

 

So you try to till the barren field with people. A shorter way to say that is: some people come into our lives so we can learn certain lessons. And when Maya encounters Peter (played by Carlo Aquino), they both have a lot to learn. In one scene, Peter and Maya discuss dreams and desires and what their notions of love are, and we know as viewers that these worldviews are going to be tested. A happy ever after isn’t promised after such trials. Maybe the only thing promised, after everything, is that you are different person from what you were before, and hopefully more whole.

I think in any film involving romantic love — whether it’s a romcom or coming-of-age or whathave-you — it’s never just the protagonist entering a realized, triumphant relationship with their romantic lead. It’s also them entering a realized, triumphant relationship with the reality of love itself. And like most protagonists, Maya doesn’t know this is what she needs until it happens. But when it does happen, I promise, you’ll be swept away.

Ulan isn’t a perfect film by any means. Maya’s best friend Topi (played by Josef Elizalde), though a commendable voice of reason, is treated like the tokenized gay best friend, and the film’s first act doesn’t give us much to invest in. But the movie’s flaws, though visible, are easy to forgive, because of how much truth comes through in other ways. I think Ulan can show us, among other things, that maybe there is a proper way to think about love consuming us: not as a hungry animal mouth, but as a sky that holds everything, spacious enough for both sun and storm, that we cannot help but be under.

 

 

Ulan is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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#love #movies

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