NYAFF 2013 Review: A Breakdown of Christian Linaban's ABERYA
Is there anything more frustrating than sitting in traffic? How about sitting in random, inexplicable traffic during off-peak hours? Where every stop-and-go inch tries your patience? That's what watching the first 30 minutes of Aberya is like.
To continue the traffic analogy, maybe you contemplate alternate routes, or abandoning your trip entirely. Or, if you're stubborn like me, you wait it out, as infuriating as that can be.
Eventually you get to the cause of the hold up, and your slow motion world goes into even slower motion as you join the ranks of the gawkers. Maybe it's a broken down POS, making you even angrier over the unnecessary rubbernecking. Or maybe it's a real horror show, something that shakes you to the core and makes you forget all about the inconvenient wait.
Which one is Aberya?
Four reckless individuals weave in and out of each others lives before inevitably colliding in Christian Linaban's psychedelic jigsaw puzzle of a debut. There's Lourd, the Fillipino-American boxer on vacation in his parents' homeland; Angel, the ex-nun turned vigilante prostitute; Mike, the Back to the Future obsessed, drug-dealing son of a Senator who is trying to chemically travel through time; and Eden, the heartbroken accidental porn star looking for Mr. Right. The action takes place in the southern Philippine island of Cebu, but this could be any number of 90s era post-Pulp Fiction US indies.
The first section of the film centers around Lourd, and is the real patience-tester of the bunch. He's got a different girl for every day of the week and we are introduced to them all, witness to every conquest no matter how minor. Most of these girls we will never see again. One of them even sings him an entire song. AN ENTIRE SONG, in what is essentially a glorified montage setting up his womanizing. Not only that, he narrates the whole sequence in some sort of bizarre homage to The Truman Show. You'd think he'd take weekends off, but no. He asks his Saturday piece, who happens to be Eden, to marry him, and then we meet his Sunday girl and the wedding is off.
That Sunday girl is Angel, the subject of section two. Her character is slightly more interesting, but at first seems like an extension of the Lourd story. It wasn't until she meets Mike, the subject of section three, that the film hit the rubberneck point for me. It didn't completely erase the tediousness of Lourd's story, but afterwards traffic resumed a normal flow. Mike's story is easily the most engaging, and this is where Aberya starts finding its focus. This pace continues through the final section, with Eden, where everything is wrapped up with a nice little bow.
The ambitious narrative is bolstered by creative editing and cinematography, both courtesy of director Christian Linaban, who also co-wrote the film. His visual flair makes up for some of the flaws in the storytelling, and keeps the viewer going during that lackluster first half hour. He really goes for it, and you've got to give him credit for trying.
Unfortunately, Aberya is too uneven to achieve greatness, or even really-goodness. If it can keep your attention long enough to draw you in, you'll be rewarded with a this-turned-out-better-than-I-thought-it-would experience. Probably not enough for the casual movie-goer, but hey, if you are watching Filipino directorial debuts, you're probably not a casual movie-goer. Personally, I'd like to see what Linaban could do with a tighter script. I don't want to sit in traffic for no reason. And if there is a reason, it'd better be a damn good one.