by MARIA ALTHEA V. JAVIER
KEEPING A platonic bond afloat in the face of prying eyes bears nothing new in the avenue of film plots.
But once a bond reeks of potential havoc against a web of conflicts, there comes the need to explore it and discover something beyond a mundane encounter at a restaurant.
About Us But Not About Us capitalizes on the possibilities of something so casual, it becomes uncanny. And with Jun Robles Lana’s masterful direction, it takes viewers into what seems like a countdown toward the inevitable.
Tedious and one-dimensional in presentation, About Us But Not About Us makes full use of the innate human desire to discover as it converses with its viewers through literature professor Ericson (Romnick Sarmenta) and his student Lancelot’s (Elijah Canlas) intimate discussions on life. With every conversation comes something new to ponder and be curious about. After all, scenes of an afternoon spent in an empty restaurant does not demand viewers to contemplate that much. Its monotonous setting pushes the viewers to focus on the speakers and the speakers only.
As the title suggests, the film explores them as two individuals who, as one will realize halfway through, are in a process of discovery. From Daft Punk to the death of Ericson’s partner, Marcus (also played by both Canlas and Sarmenta), everything quickly escalates in the seemingly long 90-minute timeframe they were given, both in the film and in real life.
One highlight of the film is the waiter reminding Ericson and Lancelot about their protocols, only allowing them to dine for 90 minutes, as routine disinfection is to be done for the next customers. For the viewers, it was the length of time left before revelations unveil themselves, layer by layer.
Ericson’s conversations with Lancelot were nothing out of the ordinary and their exchange represented each other’s individuality as they gradually opened up more. But just as viewers loosen up with the film’s delicate offer of a platonic bond between two intriguing individuals, Lana’s direction gradually shifts into what both characters would want to avoid. From a seemingly innocent conversation about interests to grim revelations about their flawed individual selves, this shift signals a countdown. Ericson and Lancelot provoked each other’s idea to the point of insanity. In their universe, it all took 90 minutes and nobody could do anything about it.
Everything about the film is constricting. The walls built around the characters subject them to the constant fear of scrutiny, also incorporating queerness as one of the factors that affect their bond. The exploration of the two characters’ sexual orientations was anything but empowering, and both Ericson and Lancelot’s self-discovery was built on conflicts that challenged their sexuality.
Until they no longer seemed like mere characters anymore, it became a discovery for both parties, from the actors to the viewers. Working with a monotonous setting further shifted the emphasis onto the characters’ presence in the film. Sarmenta and Canlas understood the complexity of their characters as shown in their respective riveting portrayals of Ericson and Lancelot, and not once did they overshadow one another.
One deficient aspect of the film is its transition to Lancelot’s sudden shift in demeanor by the end of the film. It could have been as smooth as the gradual progression of their conversation, but the shots and pacing simply felt out of place. The clumsy camera work, suddenly tilting the shot to the side in an attempt to emphasize Lancelot’s growing madness, somehow distracted from the scene itself. The nature of the film tells everything that should be expected of it. This time, special camera work does not fit in with the film’s straightforward identity. It depended on the writing and the performance of the actors.
About Us But Not About Us was able to rise among the abundance of oversaturated films studded with A-list actors for the 2023 Summer Metro Manila Film Festival. Riddled with ambiguity, viewers can only visualize each aspect of the story through the conversations shared between the two main characters. All faith in the world is bestowed upon Ericson and Lancelot’s narrations of what truly happened, and as time runs out, one can only watch as they slowly disintegrate into their authentic selves even they were not aware of. F