Ulan: Movie Review

unreel-trailer-ulan-thumb-770x433After revealing the artistic and mysterious approach to the Ulan trailer, it was understandable that there was a very big buzz surrounding this movie, which also happens to be Nadine’s solo lead apart from her perennial on screen partner James Reid.

The concept of “Ulan” was amazing. There were hints of surrealism and romance in the trailer that really caught the audience’s attention, but I approached the movie with moderate expectations because I really didn’t know what it was about. After it has ended, I pretty much felt the same way as I did when I finished seeing the trailer —  a bit amazed, a tad confused and uncertain of what just happened. Whether its a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.

Synopsis: Maya (Nadine Lustre) is orphaned at an early age and grows up with a very traditional upbringing, living with her grandmother (Perla Bautista). As a child, Maya witnesses many supernatural events around her and most of these happen during the rain. As a result, she grows up associating tragic events in her life with the rain. She later becomes a skeptical young woman, embittered by love and loss and doubting her worth to receive her own happy ending.

Without trying to break the mystery surrounding the movie, I would have to congratulate the filmmakers for this well crafted movie. It had great cinematography and scoring and it made excellent use of practical effects to deliver the supernatural elements of the story.  Director Irene Villamor clearly had fun experimenting with the different elements of the film to deliver a unique concept for the movie.

This was one of the main draws of the movie but in my opinion, it was also the film’s Achilles Heel. I understood that more than the gimmickry, the film wanted to spark a deeper conversation about loving oneself and understanding one’s role in the general scheme of things.

However, there were times that the film got too excited with delivering its message that it seemed like the characters — Maya in particular, swallowed a book on philosophy, questioning every aspect of life and tainting it with her own bitter view. To a point, audiences will understand Maya because the film more than devoted an ample backstory on where all this sadness was coming from. On the flipside, one can’t help but feel frustrated at her character because it seemed like she was always subconsciously setting herself up for failure because of her insecurities and naivete.

The script was also a tad preachy, ramming concepts like paying it forward, the universe and stardust and other poetic tropes into conversations between the lead stars Maya (Nadine Lustre) and Peter (Carlo Aquino). It seemed over the top and unrealistic. Really? People went about pondering the essence of life in regular conversation? While it sounds good on paper, I found it somewhat contrived — even though the conversations make a ton of sense intellectually. I also felt that representation of the typhoon as a scorned woman and the Philippines as its lover was a bit off. The film wanted to express its views about everything — love, the universe and the cosmos and even politics and it just felt like a lopsided mix. Feel free to judge me as shallow.

The supernatural elements and the interweaving storylines between the past and the present was my favorite parts of the film. I liked how the childhood patterns were reflected into Maya’s adult behavior. It also made for an interesting approach to deliver Maya’s backstory.

However, as I’ve said, the main strengths are also the film’s main weaknesses. The film may have succeeded in establishing the mystery too much that moviegoers keep on theorizing what each scene means. As such, they begin to invest more on cracking the code, rather than understanding the story as it is being told on screen. (The cinema was abuzz with theories, mine included)

I liked the chemistry between Nadine and Carlo. They looked good on screen and they seemed to click. Nadine feels a bit self conscious at some points of the story because there was a lot of cinematic shots injected into the film to showcase her natural Filipina beauty and Carlo’s all-Pinoy charm. Acting wise, these were the only two people on screen that you would care about. Wait, I spoke too soon. I loved Maya’s gay friend and confidante Toti (Josef Elizalde) and the young version of herself, played by child star Elia Ilano. Toti spoke the truth always and sometimes, girls just need straight talk to snap them out of the drama, while little Maya was spunky, albeit bit boy crazy at a young age.

Overall, I thought that the film lacked some connecting scenes that would justify its final and core message. I even suspect that some audiences will find it weird to jump straight to the final (yet the most brilliant) scene in the movie without resolving her grief over the one final tragedy. Perhaps, a tweak in the sequencing would have made more sense to transition the film to its closing sequence would have been helpful.

All in all, I would have to say that Ulan will not be a film for everybody.  Its success or failure is relative to the audience’s taste. One thing is for sure, though. Its an unforgettable film that challenges convention and its one brave movie for going against the norm.