Director Joselito "Jay" Altarejos understands the sadness of a child very well when he brought to screen Unfriend, a gripping story of a gay teenager pinning for a lover who has grown indifferent.
Even if you think you've seen enough movies about homosexual love—make room for this one. It is not a perfect movie, but what it lacks in technical perfection and suprises, it makes up for ambiance: a sense of a gradual breaking of a dam of rage.
Teen love, gay love, gay teen love, are nothing new, having been incarnated on the screen numerous times.
However, the love story in Unfriend is more than just about obsession but a sadness only a young inexperienced lover knows.
David (played by newcomer Sandino Martin) is a 15-something gay teenager who has just been jilted by his lover, Jonathan (Angelo Ilagan) on Christmas Eve.
After a night of breakup sex in a tiny, dingy room above an Internet cafe, David returns home smiling to his grandmother (Boots Anson- Roa), a kind but simple woman steeped in her Catholic belief.
Later on, David discovers via social media that Jonathan has taken on another lover.
As a result, he explodes in a series of mini-tantrums in his own room but always turns docile and amiable to his grandmother and his mother (Shamaine Buencamino) who regularly Skypes with him from the U.S. where she works.
In an attempt to get back together with Jonathan, he turns to social media to monitor his movements and sends feelers by liking and unliking his posts. When his affections remain unreturned, he pulls a last ditch effort at reconciliation as a sinister back-up plan solidifies in his mind.
Anchoring the movie is Martin's controlled anguish which is seen in various forms as he goes through the many stages of grief. In his final meeting with Jonathan, he trembles and nearly chokes on sobs he tries to suppress but his body gives him away as he chews on his straw and blows bubbles into his tea.
Unfriend is filled with intimate scenes that leaves one more sad than titillated. What makes Unfriend endearing is that it is more interested in intimacy than sexiness. One may secretly root for David and Jonathan to get back together but at the same time, one would want to see the extent of pain that David can withstand.
I'm not sure if this is an intended effect but the irregular camerawork, at times, reflects the confused and violent emotions in David as he wanders through the narrow, chaotic and noisy streets of Metro Manila during the Yuletide season.
As amusing as this technique is, there were moments in the film that called for calmness in framing. Films about love and obsession, after all, are beautiful because of intimate photography and moments of stillness stop the heart only to have one's soul yanked out the body again.
Unfriend may also be viewed as a cautionary tale on modern-day struggles as human interaction is replaced by the comfort of online connectivity.
David, after all, is the typical awkward teen of today who is able to better express his feelings through his Facebook status than through real interpersonal connection.
Jay Altarejos's Unfriend probes the mind of a man-child whose heart knows boundless passion, has no shame and does not forgive.
Unfriend had its world premiere at the Panorama section of the 64th Berlin International Film Festival.
The director's cut (R-18 version) presents a more graphic sex scene that could certainly spark discussion for its prolonged exposure.
Moviegoers have the option to watch the R-18 version and the R-16 version currently being screened in Philippine cinemas.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.