Be Different! Go Watch "Minsan Pa!"

(By Jo -Ann Maglipon)

Fair warning: "Minsan Pa," starring Jomari Yllana and Ara Mina, is not the kind of film we're used to.

I want to be wrong, but I don't particularly expect excited queues of wives, husbands, and children, of whatsoever class, of whichsoever educational attainment, to show up, even if the film has been rated-thank god for little enlightenments from the MTRCB-a PG-13.

In its screening permit, the MTRCB actually wrote: "Love may be a many splendored thing, fully illustrated in this movie. Some scenes need parental guidance. Unanimous committee classification is PG."

But having hurdled that one, the film has to deal with the press reviews next, which, I suspect, will not be too loud or too ecstatic, judging by the polite-all right, tepid-clapping at the end of Thursday's pre-screening at the Podium.

Again I hope I'm wrong, but I rather suspect they will go with the words "too long, too slow" and even "huh, where's the story?,” even if it is the serious artist Armando "Bing" Lao, 56, that wrote the screenplay.

Given that the film's director, the extremely gifted Jeffrey Jeturian, 44, has said that they no longer have a budget left for promotions, and given that the film's publicists have hinted that their TV airtime and billboard advertising will largely be exchange deals between the film's lawyer-producers and their clients, "Minsan Pa" becomes very dependent on independent reviews.

So it's come what may.

Adding to the film's uniqueness, it utilizes a not terribly familiar device hereabouts: the subtitle, which translates into English the Cebuano and Tagalog dialogue found throughout the film.

Partly, it uses subtitles because that really is the more authentic way to follow the life of a Cebuano tour guide (Jomari Yllana), whose major clients include Japanese tourists.

And partly, because an expensive film like this has to look beyond the small local market and toward the international film festival circuit, where it may have the good fortune to bag not only awards but also sales and distribution deals.

What's more, its total running time of two hours thirty minutes (as against the regular one hour forty) cannot give cinema owners the usual turnovers in a day, which means a little less income per day.

In other words, the film can't be a cinema owner's favorite movie to book.

All told, I even bet that no veteran hard-boiled producer hereabouts will finance this film at this time, particularly not at the serious P23 million-not counting promotions and publicity-that the film has already cost.

Indeed, its five producers-Joji Alonso and two other lawyer friends, plus two businessmen-are first-timers in the game.

After all, ask any producer: A local film has to gross thrice its total cost just to break even!

A brave, new film

So, why am I saying go watch?

Because it's a brave, new film.

It doesn't mind defying the conventions of budget and viewing time; it doesn't shy away from challenging viewing taste; it doesn't even look like it cares too much that its storyline is different, its treatment near nerdy, and the whole thing veers so far from the usual box-office formula.

But precisely because it isn't any of these things, it becomes one moment in a long while when a film has placed its money where its heart is.

I have no idea where its producers got the guts to go with Jeffrey Jeturian.

True, when Jeffrey was still directing Joji Alonso's "Legal Forum&" on Channel 9, he was promised he would direct the first movie she would ever produce. But no filmmaker in his right mind really expects anyone to back up a very old promise with a fresh P23 million!

And if the producers had checked the Jeturian-Lao collaborations, they would've counted three films of critical acclaim but of weak-to-middling box-office returns: the raw and gritty "Pila Balde" the satirical and bawdy "Tuhog" and the quiet and personal "Sana Pag-ibig Na," which would probably come closest to the mood of "Minsan Pa."

In other words, the producers had deliberately taken an intelligent risk.

In "Minsan Pa," Jeturian and Lao once again eschew the overtly commercial. They don't even make Jomari and Ara end up together.

Yet it must be said: If her feelings for him here are shallow and uneven, Jomari's feelings are deep and warm, and in their very rejection show up another real episode in a real guy's life.

Add to this, in the film's promotional tour the two won't even have joint appearances.

The buzz is that Jomari does not want to be caught in the same TV frame with Ara because the frame would have to record them smiling happily, making a farce of their dramatic separation in real life.

For her part, Ara, the buzz goes, will not mind being with Jomari in the same spot at the same time for them to finally have that talk they badly need.

So when Jomari was promoting in Cebu, Ara was promoting in Manila. And when the movie premieres tomorrow, Monday 7 p.m., at Megamall's Cinema 1 and 2-while Jomari is in 1, Ara will be in 2.

The filmmakers-hurray!-will just leave the film to be taken on its own merits.

Again, go watch!

I'm not saying "Minsan Pa" is perfect.

I actually think its length-two hours and 30 minutes-can be whittled down to exactly two, and still tell the story without violating its pace or undoing its mood.

It can begin with the underwater scenes. As gorgeous as these are-Marissa Floirendo's camera lovingly caresses the seabed-they are overextended and, after a time, tend to interrupt rather than mark the story flow.

This, of course, is the usual sin of films with underwater footage, even of a strong film like "Muro Ami." Everyone falls in love with the dazzling magnificence of the world underneath the waters and can't let go. So everyone ends up missing just when the cut should fall to keep the storytelling seamless.

Furthermore, quiet does not always mean deep.

For instance, I get that Jomari Yllana plays the working guy who lives on commissions in the competitive service industry. For such a man as he, the customer is always right, it's not in his makeup to ask for the moon, he barely even has time to ask himself questions about what he wants for himself. That's clear enough.

But I would have liked the film-through visceral scenes if not outright dialogue-to give me more insight into the thoughts and feelings of a guy like that.

Honestly, I ended up providing those things for myself.

But these aside, the film remains powerful.

And its power does not reside in the highlights, or in the titanic confrontations, which the film does not have anyway. Neither is it to be found in the titillating screen romance that takes off from real life, a romance that is again absent anyway.

Instead, its extraordinary power rests in its stubborn insistence to tell a quiet and ordinary tale about a regular guy no one may even pay a moment's mind-and tell it differently, but very well.

Should the film gather queues, then we know that now we have different, but extraordinary, viewers as well.