The real beauty in Atom Magadia's Dagsin (Gravity) is embedded within its realistic depiction of love that transcends through generations.
There is a cathartic sense in its honesty, unloading a heft of harsh realities that speak volumes of striking sentiments, without getting the film overly-stuffed with the conventional cinema's traditional embellishments.
Inspired by the real-life story of the director-producer tandem of Atom Magadia and his wife Anne, Dagsin is a far cry from the inviting fairytale set-ups of mainstream romantic cinema.
This is the film that entirely accepts the darkness and pain of its narrative, delving into the depths of its characters' struggles and plight without masquerading them with superficial beauty that can only be ephemeral at best.
Topbilled by seasoned actor, Tommy Abuel, as the POW (prisoner-of-war), Justino Razon, who became an atheist after going through the horrors of the Japanese occupation, Martial Law, and the demise of his wife, the film is about a paraplegic man's battle against his conscience and his struggle of faith, both to God and his own self. The film talks about survival and reasons for it, delivering a bracing account of a hopeless man already on the brink of giving up on his life.
The proceedings unfold in a reverse fashion, beginning with a powerful scene where Justino reminisces the love story he shared with Corazon (Marita Zobel). Their love story springs from the 1930's when their younger selves—played by Benjamin Alves and Janine Gutierrez—met in college.
It unfolds earnestly, following Justino's recollection and the account of Corazon, whose diary box containing information about their past, was found by their adopted daughter, Mercy (Lotlot de Leon).
The recollection unleashes secrets, ones that keep Justino haunted and solitary after Corazon's death. There is a smart design that provides his character with a multi-faceted form, one both Tommy Abuel and Ben Alves are able to deliver with ease.
As a celebrated judge during Martial Law, his integrity was tainted by an effort to save his wife. His actions and the tragic events that came in the wake of his questionable choices, make him both a culprit and a victim, which is ironic given how his narrative painted him as a venerated executioner.
But there is humanity in this complexity, and it grants the film a grounded resolution, which ultimately represents the intent of the film's very title.
Both Benjamin Alves and Janine Gutierrez are able to pull off memorable performances here. A part of me was actually silently giggling over their “kilig-imbued” scenes, but the part where their struggle was placed into the spotlight, feels more warranted. There is a torture scene where Ben singularly shines, but what comes next ensues a more excruciating journey, whose emotional gravity is far more searing than the physical struggle the character has to go through.
Janine shares an equally haunting tragedy, a big part of which initially concealed, but she is more memorable in light moments where Justino and Corazon's romance are central.
There is one commanding scene during the Japanese Occupation with Alex Diaz, an emotional one, and his performance is no less powerful.
At its helm, Direk Atom Magadia draws the film's strength from its attention to details. The film is practically an illustration of pain, and it shreds it further to bits of both joys and tragedies, shared by Justino and Corazon. There is a recognizable amount of restraint deployed to maintain the level of suspense, and its foreboding tone.
Direk Atom grants the film's lurid portions with care, allowing the emotional scenes relay their enduring messages effectively. He is generous in letting Ben and Janine conjure an irresistible charm, granting them the capacity to give some light and lightness to a narrative that seems to almost only entertain its darkness and silence. He is also successful in fully utilizing the film's supports, and their potential, especially Alex Diaz, whose surprising acting chops were acknowledged by the Magadia-couple, themselves.
This is a love story full of depth and complexity. It is a screaming portrait of reality, of love freed from the deceptive decorations of romance that conforms our fantasies. It is without faults, but where it is most honest, the film delivers a compelling case of a romantic journey that most people may not easily find possible.
Dagsin is one of nine full-length entries competing in the 12th edition of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival that will run from August 5-14, 2016.
(To learn more about this year’s entries, read: Cinemalaya 2016 loses one entry; Nora Aunor, Judy Ann Santos among stars featured in 12th edition)
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.