MOVIE REVIEW: Buhay Habangbuhay (2016, CineFilipino)

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“Buhay Habangbuhay” Review
Written and directed by Paolo Herras
CineFilipino Film Festival 2016

Based on the graphic novel by Paolo Herras and Tepai Pascual, Buhay Habangbuhay presents itself as a refreshing look at how powerful an adaptation could be as long as done effectively through the advantages of both mediums.

The film begins all too sudden with death: a housewife slips in the kitchen and kills herself—much to the shock of her husband who cannot do anything to bring her back. It was all too quick that even the shortest of breath could not survive her, and the least the man can do is to grieve over the loss of a dutiful wife. “Sandy!” he shouts in the midst of worry. This is the only word heard in the midst of chaos, the only sound that resonates with volume other than the shatter of the plate and the hopes broken all the same.

It is all too sudden as well to be introduced to Sandy’s ghost as she watches her body being laid to rest. In the comforts of their house, she discovers how to stay and linger and haunt while waiting for her husband, Joel, to die. It is as if she has prior knowledge on what has to be done or there could have been a manual on how to proceed to the afterlife. Patience is within her as she is clad in white, the same dress she was wearing when she died. There is something to feel from her curiosity as a ghost that Iza Calzado does not fail to deliver all throughout.

As for Joel, nothing is the same anymore. The bed is altogether empty. Every time he sleeps, he saves half of the bed empty and reaches out to the bodiless space. Loneliness sinks too deep that it crushes their core. There is emptiness in his soul that Sandy can clearly see way beyond the measures of her ghostly vision. Jake Macapagal carries the heavy feeling as Joel with much ownership to his character. The walls may no longer bounce the sweet voice of her woman but they are surely aware of Sandy’s presence which he fails to at least realize.

The film chooses to be silent in all the right points which give time for the audience to ponder. In its own air devoid of cluttered dialogues, it pushes itself to speak through its visuals augmented by its melancholic scoring. The overemphasis on quietness adds up to the overall atmosphere of longing.

While Sandy’s ghost could not exactly move on, Joel seems to be able to cope without difficulty. He brings home Cecille (Meryll Soriano) and takes her as a second wife. Sandy inspects the new woman with a curious eyes as Cecille inspects the new home with fervor. Fueled by passion, the new couple rush to make out while Sandy remains a mere spectator of a new beginning for her husband. In hiding, she meets a friendly anito spirit (Ricci Chan) who becomes her companion in her quest of waiting. Chan’s character delivers the punch lines needed to break the ice albeit sometimes falling flat. He speaks mostly in fragments—perhaps to separate his entity as someone who has known death for a very long time or has just grown tired of speaking naturally. Even so, his character, who brings a lighter mood in an otherwise gloomy ambience, takes Iza’s character as a friend instead of an apprentice in the game of fetching the dead.

Sandy is very much clouded with sadness but there is nothing much to do other than to see how things will unfold for Joel. Later on, she accepts the situation and grows to live silently with the new family. The only one who is able to see the new kid Christopher (Nhikzy Calma).

There is beauty in all the waiting in between and all through the time before Joel finally dies. Sandy is ready but Joel seems to have disappeared. “I’m waiting for my husband,” she tells her anito friend. “We will leave together.” Time passes only for her to become sadder. “He will come,” she would insist for which Anito would remind her “He’s no longer here.”

In mourning, Sandy wears black. By then, she realizes that she changes color based on disposition. She sits between the bereaved Cecille and Christopher and cries with them, sobbing in deep grief and eventually bursting into laughter. With no Joel around, there is a heavier tone in everything else and the weight crosses from mortals to ghosts. Sandy meets other characters in Anna Marin and Rocky Salumbides who both breathe air of serenity—something that she is still getting used to.

The visual effects of Buhay Habangbuhay are very essential to the holistic feel of the movie. While these can still be improved, the skill in pulling everything off is commendable enough in spite of time constraint and limitations during production. The effects are still haunting and provide that adequate space to separate reality from imagination. As the imaginative aspects of the movie is incorporated in the real world as we know it, suspension of disbelief is necessary to accept the story as presented.

“I’ve been dead long before you came to my life. You made me live again. I want you to live,” as Joel’s character whispers to Cecille. Sandy witnesses in pain but accepts how life turns out for their family.

With the aid of the evocative musical score, the film takes its audience to an engaging journey that might seem wandering at first but leads to something victorious in the end. The search for purpose is given the highlight it deserves: not just for Sandy’s ghost but for all other ghosts that have once become a part of her life and her life after life.

Buhay Habangbuhay writes a different equation to the usual romance flick that its graphic novel would pass for a first impression. Its characters embrace the somber affair and take it as their own realities while not completing letting go of their respective memories of what they had in the past. Compared to its source material, the film is centered on the importance of experience as it lets every minute pass with tenderness. It would be hard not to imagine Sandy’s character being one with the film’s audience. Calzado renders justice to her ghost and accentuatse it with such indispensable charisma.

Director Paolo Herras is not new to filmmaking and he proves to know his craft in Buhay Habangbuhay. How he balances the pluses of the comic tropes and the benefits of translating them to moving pictures is more than laudable for someone who is more inclined in doing the best out of graphic novels.

As the film ends on a sweet note, it paves the road to more chapters to tell. It will never be the end for Sandy’s ghost. There is purpose in living, she realizes. “I want them to feel me because I want to be remembered.”

The end credit rolls with singer Isha performing the movie’s theme song accompanied by the affecting music of the piano. There is a lingering sensation that Buhay Habangbuhay accomplishes through an aftertaste that is sweet and bitter at the same time.It speaks a lot without actually speaking a lot, and this is to be remembered now and hereafter.

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