Stories can be dances with an unpredictable cadence, and films can be jazz. Diane Ventura’s debut feature, Mulat, which will hold its first commercial screening on Nov. 2, has earned critical acclaim—Ventura bagged Best Director for Global Feature, while Jake Cuenca took home the Best Actor award at the International Film Festival Manhattan 2015; the film also won Best Narrative Feature at the World Cinema Festival in Brazil, where Cuenca once again snagged the Best Actor trophy.
Gut response will tell you the plot is thrown out of the window, but nothing can be farther from the truth. In its use of time jumps, shifting perspectives, and dream sequences juxtaposed with spills from the subconscious, the film not so much subverts linearity but subsumes itself in it, rethinks it. What we have in Mulat, if anything, is a jagged, broken roadmap.
Sam (Loren Burgos) is engaged to Vince (Ryan Eigenmann), who has shown his disdain for marital proceedings and, transitively, his fiancée. The film opens with them quarreling during a car ride, an argument which escalates into frenzied verbal volleying that is later interrupted by collision with a stray motorcyclist. The crash ironically sets the dream-riddled wheels in motion, and the viewer is taken to flashbacks, flash-forwards, and alternate realities in “multiverse” fashion.
In one sequence, the crash appears to be a mere bout of daydreaming, with the doggedly submissive Sam suddenly shifting gears and tells the abusive Vince, “I’m not wasting another second of my life with you.” The rest of the film is a rich montage of alternating worlds between Sam’s strained engagement with Vince, and her redemption in the hands of a new love in the person of Jake (Jake Cuenca).
The mostly-English screenplay by Ventura is flirty-conversational, and its occasional forays into psychoanalysis flow freely, unencumbered by the unwieldy gravity psych concerns that usually lends to talkies.
The casting is spot-on, the performances human. Burgos as Sam is way north of eye-candy, her alternating ascent-descent into joy-madness contained but effective; Eigenmann’s Vince is doused with an effortless a-hole cool, a volcano perpetually teetering on the edge of eruption; and Cuenca’s Jake is both a charmer and a dramatic powerhouse. The support cast are A-one, Logan (Logan Goodchild) and Cathy (Candy Pangilinan) revelations as a truth-espousing comical couple, and of course, every frame with the sublime Madeleine Nicolas in it (as Sam’s mom) is a frame worth watching.
Alfred Asuncion’s secure camera work shines best in its nuanced differentiation across varying timelines and perspectives, along with his subtle coloring and tasteful editing alongside John Wong. Tengal’s understated score and sound design also lend Mulat some much-needed breathing space, functioning more as atmospherics rather than as pushy accents, as in other psychological vehicles.
Ventura’s Mulat certainly isn’t the first movie to offer an atypical rendering of time, of causality, of consequence; from Kurosawa to Tarantino to pre-Batman Nolan, the modern auteur has always toyed with cinematic storytelling in one form or another. But what it promises is a more pedestrian (but by no means simpler) story arc to ferry it along: the meandering course of a love affair, the ways we deal with heartbreak, the lenses through which we view our hopes and dreams. In the more-than-able hands of Ventura and her team, the fractured beauty that is Mulat ceases to be a difficult structural pill; it becomes a welcome change of scene, even to the most unsuspecting among us.
Diane Ventura’s first ever commercial screening of Mulat: (Awaken) beginning Nov. 2 comes with a bonus opening feature short film TheRapist (also directed by Ventura).