Posted in Film Recommendations

The six films that saved me last week

“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”

― Ingmar Bergman

Being stuck in my room for two months now my days has begun to melt into puddle of beigy dullness. I have spent most of my days just trying to reach the next day’s daylight. Writing for work and leisure is extremely hard when your brain refuses to light the little sparks of joy you are trying to feed it. When everything else fails I go back to the thing that always picks me up, gives me a hug and makes me a warm chocolate drink: cinema.

As to how much I love films, its elements, and its production process warrants another essay. For now, I want to talk about the six beautiful films that I have watched last week. They are all Korean and Japanese films, so if you are not into foreign movies then maybe this is the time for you to open your hearts to them. As Director Bong Joon Ho said in his Oscar speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”.

So, shall we begin?

The unexplainable comfort of sad romantic movies

Movie #1: Josée (2020)

Josée is a South Korean romantic drama film based on a Japanese short story Josee, the Tiger and the Fish written by Seiko Tanabe.  The story begins with Yong Seok finding a woman sprawled by a side road, having fallen from her electric wheelchair which had a broken wheel. The woman introduces herself as Josée. An unlikely relationship blossoms between the two, as Yong Seok continues to visit Josée despite her protestations. He finds out Josée is a voracious reader, and has fabricated a whole made-up fantasy world of her own to escape the realities of her hopeless situation.

I am sucker for melancholic films. I do not know why but I find comfort in knowing that sometimes good things have to end. This film has succeeded in reminding me of that. The flow of the story is far from perfect and the ending felt rushed and some things are unresolved. However, the visual storytelling is impeccable. It made me miss Seoul even though I have never been there. The mood and the entirety of the film can be capsulized using one of its poetic lines:

In the autumn the leaves are dying, silently and prettily dying.”

Watching a delightful musical as the world falls apart

Movie #2: Dance With Me (2019)

Musical meets road trip in this lighthearted comedy with an outstanding performance by Ayaka Miyoshi. Shizuka works at a big Tokyo trading company and harbors a secret crush on her dashing boss. One weekend she takes her niece to visit a carnival hypnotist to inspire her for an upcoming school musical. But it is Shizuka who falls under the spell and she is soon breaking uncontrollably into song and dance whenever she hears music.  With an important meeting coming up, Shizuka is desperate to break the curse, so she embarks on a cross-country hunt for the shifty hypnotist, dancing the whole way.

I love musicals and I feel bad for people who hate them for being too “corny and unrealistic”. Don’t you want some music and joy in your life? As a perpetually sad person, I definitely do. I watched this film after reading a lot of heavy tragic news from my home country and other parts of the world. Watching this film is like eating a cotton candy when you’re in a carnival–it is soft, sweet and melts into your mouth perfectly. The musical numbers are vibrant and fun and the theme which is about letting go and following your heart never gets old. What I like about it the most is it made me smile, a lot, and that is already a win for me.

Another Ghibli film that consecutively broke and rebuilt me

Movie #3: When Marnie Was There (2014)

This studio Ghibli film is  based on Joan G. Robinson’s same-named novel. It transposes the setting from Norfolk, England in the original novel to Hokkaido, Japan. The film follows Anna Sasaki, a young girl is sent to the country for health reasons. Anna comes across a nearby abandoned mansion, where she meets Marnie, a mysterious girl who asks her to promise to keep her secrets from everyone.

I have not seen any Ghibli film that I did not like and this is not exception. I am not going to deny that at first I thought this movie was queer coded but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. This movie is blessed with abundant narrative and visual beauty and it is magical as any other Ghibli film. It has captured the anguish that comes with being young and not understanding yourself and gives an ending that feels redemptive and hopeful. This film reminded me that in the end I will always find my way back to myself no matter how many times I get lost.

A better Jazz movie than Whiplash (according to Letterboxd)

Movie #4: Swing Girls (2004)

This film is directed by the same person who made ‘Dance With Me’ and that is how I found out about it. Swing Girls is tale of delinquent and lazy schoolgirls who accidentally fell in love with jazz. In their efforts to cut remedial summer math class, they end up poisoning and replacing the schools brass band.

This movie is chaotic, hilarious and comforting. I absolutely loved it. The premise and narrative are formulaic but you will love it more because of it. Everything is so delightfully predictable that you need not waste time trying to unravel it. Instead, you just sit back and enjoy the presentation.

P.S. You do not need to know about Jazz to enjoy this film. Just watch it and revel in its heart and hilarity!

Influencer meets shy poet and the charms of young love

Movie #5: Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2020)

A meeting and romance starts between two people with communication issues. Cherry always wears headphones and puts the feelings he cannot utter into his hobby, Japanese haiku poems. Smile always wears a mask to conceal her large front teeth, for which she has dental braces. As a popular video star, she streams a video about seeking “cuteness.”

If you are a jaded adult like me watching anime films that centres on the innocence of young love is always a good antidote to the cynicism slowly enveloping your heart. With vibrant candy colours, fluffy music, and a cute couple, this movie will surely make you smile. Also, you will get a lot of good haikus which I really need because I am bad at writing good ones myself. Overall, this movie is cute.

A film that held me

Movie #6: House of Hummingbird (2018)

This film is a coming-of-age story about a lonely and awkward teenager struggling to figure out who they are and who they hope to become in a time of upheaval both in their personal life and in the outside world.

Based on that description alone, you might come up with a number of movies that fit this parameter. This one, however is one of the good ones. This movie for me is a character study that is captured through poetic cinematography. It also one of the few coming of age films that perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation of growing up. It is slow but not dragging, poignant but hopeful. There are so many wonderful things to write about this film and one of those is the remarkable performance of the main young lead. The last lines spoke to me, as if it’s holding my hand and stopping me from jumping off the bridge.

“What’s the right way to live? Some days I feel like I know, but I really don’t know for sure. I just know that when bad things happen, good things happen too. And that we always meet someone and share something with them. The world is fascinating and beautiful.”

Films, just like any other art form, will not save the world. However, it can save you from yourself while you figure out how to not fall apart with the world.

Posted in Personal Essays

angry and sad potato

If an alien abducts me today and tries to scan my brain, our otherworldly friend would definitely be disappointed because what it will see is a sole sentence written in fine print: YOU RUIN EVERYTHING, YOU STUPID BITCH! (Coincidentally, this is a song title in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a great musical tv show with a hot mess as a main character—the representation we messy bitches need).

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to that shitshow that is my mental space. Last fortnight I have decided to revive this blog by writing a piece that ended in a hopeful note. I wanted this blog to be the opposite of what I am actually feeling most days. I even named her “girl with paper wings”, a name I gave myself five years ago when I was a doe-eyed girl with the belief that my hopes and dreams would be good enough to make me fly. Perhaps, this is my attempt of bringing my old self back. Sadly, it is not working.

Trust me, I have tried myriad ways to romanticise my life. I even started a YouTube channel (you can check it out and please subscribe lol) just to convince myself that I having the best life by going to lovely places and inserting poetry in my videos because I so badly wanted to channel the art hoe and cottage core aesthetics. Tragically, pretending to be some main character of a cringey YA novel just does not make your mental anguish disappear. And it took me two years to admit that moving to a foreign country where you do not know anyone will not magically transform you into a new polished person.

subscribe or else you will have seven years of bad luck

It is about time for me to accept that I am no girl with wings. I am an angry and sad potato. I have been obsessed with projecting a fairylike version of myself who goes on delightful afternoon walks, listen to morning affirmations and do nothing but read books. I am no self-help pixie. My real hobbies include binge eating junk foods, drinking mixed vodka and having both an existential crisis and a stomach ulcer attack at 2:30 am. I spend lots of my time nursing my resentment by lurking on social media posts of the people who have wronged me. My weekends are spent binge watching the same shows with antiheroines (i.e. Fleabag, Search Party and of course, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and when I am sick of watching the lives of these fucked up characters, I google the nearest ocean and think of Virginia Woolf and her suicide note. “I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate.” Same, girl. Same. And before I could think of sticking my head into the oven (I don’t want to burn my flatmate with me, she’s a good person, sorry Sylvie) I call the Beyond Blue hotline and say to the voice on the other line that it is nice to hear a voice that isn’t mine.

Sarah, the lovely and kind counsellor who uses her precious time to talk to messed up people like me at 4:00 am, tells me I should go to a GP and get a referral to see a medical professional because I have signs of depression and anxiety. Yes, Sarah, I know. “I don’t have a GP and I don’t have Medicare but I will find a way somehow. Thank you so much for your time, Sarah. The world needs more people like you.” I lie to the likes of Sarah every time because I don’t have the heart to tell them that I am too broke to get therapy and I would rather pay rent and live in a semi-beautiful apartment in misery than pay someone $200 to talk about my childhood and adult traumas and live in a bunker bed or worse in the streets. I know it has been said before and been talked about a lot but I am going to just repeat and scream it out loud, THERAPY IS SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE!

Is it the pandemic that has made me feel this way? Yes and no. Yes, because ever since Miss Rona came all of my sense of stability has been thrown out the window. And no, because these dark emotions whatever you want to call it (demons are too dramatic tbh) has been there since I was ten (childhood trauma, ammirite?). I am aware that I am not the only one feeling this way. As a matter of fact, I am part of a generation that makes self-deprecating and depressing jokes on the internet as part of our personality because we don’t know how else to talk about it. Does this comfort me? Not really. I wish we could find a way to talk about our little miseries without feeling guilty because our parents had it worse. I wish there was a way to say, “I am not okay.” without adding ‘lol’ or a bunch of laughing emojis. Because why would we be? We just saw the ocean on fire and it was as if we opened a gateway to hell. We just lost loved ones to a virus that has also eaten our days. So, I guess it’s okay to be sad and angry. It’s okay to not know when we’ll be truly alright. Nobody knows the answer (not even the billionaires who are having a dick race towards the outer space).

I should just go to sleep and hope for things to be better when I wake up…it will be alright, right?

Why is this the wikipedia photo of Sylvia Plath???
Posted in Personal Essays

Lockdown in a rich country

Ever since this pandemic started and everyone around the world (except for the people on the frontlines) were forced to stay inside their houses, we have seen two major personas online:

  1. “I sleep, eat and sleep again.”
  2. “I am making the most out of this situation by learning a new skill/ working out.”

Of course, as someone who has prided herself in being a ‘productive’ human being I decided early on that I will be part of that second group. I took an online class in World Literature and got my certificate. I Marie-Kondo’d my room. I read books and wrote reviews. I took another online class on Sociology. I learned how to bake muffins. I worked out and went jogging. I started this blog.

my lockdown photo collage

For two months, I was successful in convincing myself that I am totally fine, that my unemployment does not bother me that much because I can do so many things in my free time. But alas! You cannot sway yourself for far too long. My bills did not care that I learned a new skill. It barged on my door like some uninvited neighbour. Then, a realization hit me. I am broke. Broke AF.

When you are rich person who lives in a mansion, this pandemic is a minor inconvenience. You cry a little bit inside thinking of those cancelled vacation plans. Then you see photos of clean streets, bluer skies, and you can’t help but think “Oh, the world is healing.” So, you post something stupid online like: This pandemic is a blessing in disguise.

I am not a rich person and most certainly I do not live in a mansion but I almost had the same epiphany. Every time I finish a book or a new TV show I think to myself, “I will not be able to do this on a normal workday.” I went out for a walk and saw our neighbour’s pretty flowers and the lovely autumn trees and I caught myself thinking, “Probably, this pandemic is really a blessing in disguise.”

I was appalled that I even thought of that. I was mad at celebrities for posting tone-deaf content. I talked about how to not let your privilege blind you on social media but here is my hypocritical brain tinkling like an ignorant Instagram influencer. All along I was wrapped in a privilege bubble.

Yes, I check the news a lot to keep myself updated. I get angry reading news about my home country and I post about wanting to join protests on social media but that’s about it. I turn my internet off, drink my tea and go back to my bubble… because to be honest even if I had the chance I probably would still not go out to march. And I hate myself for saying that.

Being in a rich country has blinded me. Now, I understand why it is easy for many OFWs to say that Filipinos back home are just lazy and do not know how to save money that’s why they are struggling during the lockdown. The comfort that a country like Australia can give will hug you tight like a blanket, so tight that you do not want to wake up to the reality. But you have to.

My bubble popped when I checked my bank account. It is scarier than a Stephen King book. My unemployment days no matter how productive they may be, they still hurt my finances. I will not be able to adhere to my annual financial pan. I am not able to pay bills and my tuition fees on time. I was such a clown for thinking this was a blessing in disguise. Only the ultra-rich are able to benefit from this (American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic).

 As I was about to wallow in self-pity, I thought of how I am still much more fortunate than many of my fellow Filipinos who lost their jobs during the lockdown. I can cry about being broke inside my air-conditioned room and have a hot shower after. However, being broke in the Philippines does not give you the luxury to be this melodramatic. You have to get your job back as soon as possible even if it means walking for hours (because public transport is not allowed). Being broke in the Philippines means you can die from starvation and it is not because you did not work hard enough but it is because the system has failed you.

Nothing is certain for me after this lockdown. I do not know when I can be financially stable again. For weeks, I have tried looking for casual jobs on Indeed, Seek, and even on Craigslist. None of them has helped me get the money I need. I honestly do not know what to do. As of now, I will follow the number six advice of Psychology Today on ‘What to do when you don’t know what to do’: Sleep on it.

I will drink my Twinning’s Sleep tea and go to sleep.

Posted in Personal Essays

My Affair with Loneliness

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
tea, cookies, and a book: antidote to loneliness

Eleanor Rigby, a song about lonely people, is one of my favorite songs from The Beatles. Now, I am reading a book about another lonely woman but with the same first name, Eleanor Oliphant.

Loneliness is a theme often present in books that I have loved. I take delight in reading about the eccentricities of people who have chosen to be obscure. However, the delight of reading about loneliness vanishes when you realize the familiarity of silent days, talking to the walls, talking to no one but your brain, reading a book out loud to hear your voice and to remind yourself that you still exist. The joy of reading about loneliness disappears when you realize that you yourself is one of those lonely people The Beatles sang about. This joy turns into a dash of sadness, that will later turn into a tad of confusion about how you lived your life, and finally into a question: ‘Why am I so lonely?’

Before I moved here to Australia, a lot of people had warned me about the solitariness of living in a foreign land. I just shrugged off all their comments for I have always considered myself a master of isolation. With all the goals and confidence I packed in my luggage I came to Sydney feeling better than ever. And yes, I was in bliss for the first few months. I had no social obligations. I went to grocery shops disheveled with no fear of meeting a high school classmate. I stayed in my room all day to read books on my free days and no one would tell me to get out. I was living my dream life.

Then the lonely days crept in.

On New Year’s Eve while everyone at home was busy preparing for their festivities, I was alone at my new house. I was skimming through Netflix titles and wishing that there was someone else with me who could choose a movie in a heartbeat. I wished I had somebody to hug me that night. I had forgotten what it’s like to touch another human being.

Three days after, I found myself crying on the morning of my birthday. I woke up early expecting to smell my mother’s cooking and my father’s voice but then I remembered that they are 3, 540 miles away. I spent the whole morning sobbing and hugging myself.

Loneliness is not romantic. It isn’t always an image of you drinking wine in a tub surrounded by scented candles. Most of the times loneliness is staring at the ceiling all night or scrolling through all your social media accounts for hours waiting for a friend’s message.

Perhaps, John Donne was right when he said that ‘no man is an island’. Yes, there is beauty in solitude but we need each other in order to live and not just exist. I learned that the hard way.

I am still lonely now at times, but I have learned how to reach out. I hope Eleanor Oliphant learns that too.