LSS (Last Song Syndrome) (Jade Castro, 2019)

“This is Love!” exclaims the heroine somewhat excitedly, though her romantic declaration turns out to be a tongue in cheek reference to the PJ Harvey song rather than a heartfelt confession. LSS (Last Song Syndrome) finds its lovelorn millennials chasing their romantic dreams but seemingly stuck in a relatable loop of heartbreaks and disappointments. They meet and then part only to brush past each other sometimes knowingly sometimes not, but somehow give each other strength as they battle the sense that their dreams are not destined to come true, yet love is less a goal in its own right than the freedom it offers to be all of who you are.

Sarah (Gabbi Garcia), a struggling singer-songwriter working a host of part-time jobs to put her younger brother through college, meets Zack (Khalil Ramos), a graphic designer, on a bus after he nervously switches seats to avoid a man with an obvious cold. Unbeknownst to Zack, Sarah had already spotted him in the queue because he was singing along to a song she likes by up and coming indie band Ben&Ben. She strikes up a conversation about music and they have a good laugh that they’re called Zack and Sarah like the Ben Folds song, eventually sharing their anxieties as they bond over a shared taste in indie pop. Sarah reveals that she doesn’t really like Ben&Ben, or she does but feels conflicted because she took part in the same newcomers workshop they did and now they’re superstars and she’s struggling to get ahead, while Zack tells her that he’s on his way to see his “best friend” with whom he’s been secretly in love for the last five years and is hoping tonight might be the night. Even so, Zack is evidently smitten and a connection has been made, but they each get off the bus and head in different directions without swapping contact details, thinking it’s one of those crazy one time encounters. 

Meanwhile, we watch them both remain in sync battling twin heartbreaks as each of their dreams goes in for a series of batterings. Zack shows up at Cha’s (Iana Bernardez) apartment and discovers she’s started dating someone else, a girl, earlier that day and realises he’s missed his chance again. Sarah gets fired from her part-time job and breaks up with her annoyingly conservative boyfriend Elmer (Eian Rances) who tells her that her dreams of becoming a musician are unrealistic while planning to open some kind of “networking” business selling dodgy cosmetics. Elmer’s words get to Sarah, but because of her meeting with Zack who told her that he believed in her dream because she has great taste in music, she has the strength to tell him where to go and double down on getting into the music industry.

That means, for a time at least, coming at it from the other side. Sarah swallows her pride and asks Ben&Ben for a job as a roadie. They aren’t very supportive (perhaps oddly seeing as the band play themselves in this movie that heavily features their music and is all about how they save love), but their manager remembers her and gives her a job when she applies for an assistant’s position through the regular channels. Zack, meanwhile, is still listening to Ben&Ben and hoping to run into Sarah at a concert someday while secretly planning to meet up with his estranged father behind the back of his kind of amazing taxi driver mum (Tuesday Vargas) who keeps needling him about his lack of romantic success (in the most playful of ways). 

Zack’s first sense of heartbreak is romantic, realising that Cha just doesn’t see him that way and that isn’t going to change. His second is familial in realising he can’t change the way the people he loves feel, and that has to be OK. Sarah’s heartbreaks, meanwhile, are largely professional as she struggles to convince those around her that she has what it takes to make it while seeing others pull ahead as she languishes backstage. Castro brings the pair together at their lowest point, allows their love to let them blossom, but then sets them apart again in the most amicable of ways. “Go chase your dreams, Sarah”, Zack tells her, supporting from the sidelines as he always has. Love is not the dream, but it is a bridge to one. You might have to let it wander for a while, but it’ll come back round eventually when it’s ready, better and stronger for having figured itself out on its own. And until then, you’ll always have Ben&Ben. 


LSS (Last Song Syndrome) screened part of this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Ben&Ben’s official website.

Music video for Ben&Ben’s Araw Araw featuring actors Gabbi Garcia and Khalil Ramos

Melancholia (Lav Diaz, 2008)

melancholia“Why is there so much madness and too much sorrow in the world? Is happiness just a concept? Is living just a process to measure man’s pain?” asks a key character towards the end of this eight hour film, but he might as well be speaking for the film itself as its director, Lav Diaz, delivers another long form state of the nation address. This is a ruined land peopled by ghosts, unable to come to terms with their grief and robbing themselves of their identities in an effort to circumvent their pain. Raw yet lyrical, Diaz’s lament seems wider than just for his damaged homeland as each of its sorrowful, disillusioned warriors attempts to reacquaint themselves with world devoid of hope.

Loosely divided into three segments, the film begins in the present as the three protagonists encounter each other in the picturesque northern town of Sagada. A prostitute, a nun, and a pimp each is later revealed to be living under a temporary assumed identity in an experimental “immersion” programme designed to help them deal with their traumatic past as former revolutionary fighters, each of whom has also lost a spouse to the struggle.

A short while later, the “pimp” Julian (Perry Dizon) and the “prostitute” Alberta (Angeli Bayani) have returned to their “real” lives as bourgeois Manila intellectuals – he a publisher and she a teacher. Julian is haunted by memories of his late wife, Patricia, whose sad song of longing echoes in the forests, while Alberta is preoccupied with her adoptive daughter, Hannah (Yanyan Taa), who has run away and embarked on a life of prostitution. Rina (Malaya), Sagada’s nun, remains a ghostly, peripheral presence – another truth neither is willing to acknowledge.

After giving us these two attempts to live with it, Diaz takes us back to the past as Alberta’s lost husband, Renato (Roeder), along with two other fighters hides in the jungle from government forces intent on routing them out. Trapped with no possibility of salvation the three men begin to go mad while Renato later breaks away and records his inner struggle in a diary which no one will ever read.

The weight of the past with all of its myriad traumas becomes too heavy to bear, fracturing the internal consistency of each of our three protagonists, crushing their sense of individual identity in a bid to destroy an entire culture. Unable to face their unresolved grief, each has absented themselves from themselves in an attempt to address their pain and confusion. This bizarre kind of therapy designed by Julian is intended to remove their sadness altogether by forcing them to live as other people but their sojourn in Sagada proves “too immersive” according to Alberta in a later sequence. Rina, the nun, is too greatly exposed by her new role, seeing everything through the eyes of innocence only further compounding her sense of loss and disillusionment with the cruelty of the world.

Alberta tries to face her trauma through endless searching for her husband’s body and through caring for the orphaned daughter of other victims of the military regime but her efforts are often frustrated by a lack of support from those around her. Julian, having tried and failed to cast off his painful identity, has emerged hollow and defined by an absence of self. Having penned a book neatly echoing the unheard lamentations of Renato in which sadness becomes the defining quality of the world, giving birth to art and music, poetry and cinema, Julian is now the god of melancholy, worshipped by tortured artists everywhere but trapped within a personal purgatory from which escape seems impossible.

Shot once again in Diaz’s trademark black and white with low grade digital cameras, Melancholia is indeed imbued with sadness and a crushing weight of the unresolved past. Alberta, left alone, continues searching in vain just as the beautifully lonely lyrics of Patricia’s song lament, trapped by hope but unable to find a resolution for all that she has so far lost. Raw and angry, there’s a kind of defeated resignation which fills Melancholia, an absence of hope that sees that nothing will change – this world is hell and the sadness cannot be cured. Julian gives in to madness and the allure of illusion but finds little comfort in it, moving away from Alberta who alone is still prepared to go on searching, yet hers seems like the unluckier fate, perpetually trapped in this hellish purgatory awaiting the friendly hands to pull her out seemingly never to arrive.


A scene which makes much more sense when you’ve seen the whole film (English subtitles)