“There are all kinds of love in this world, but never the same love twice.” I guess it’s also the same for romance immortalized on print and onscreen. Love will always be the most inevitable destination but the journey is what distinguishes the many love stories that had come and go. THAT THING CALLED TADHANA throws many hints of where Anthony (JM De Guzman) and Mace (Angelica Panganiban)’s spontaneous excursion could ultimately lead to. But creator Antoinette Jadaone is clever enough to detour from clichés to make a refreshing, introspective and inspired love story that is destined to be much more sensible and superior than its mainstream predecessors.
The breakout hit of the 2014 Cinema One Originals Film Festival, THAT THING CALLED TADHANA is unabashedly romantic yet shrewdly adventurous on narrating the deepening emotional bond of its leads. Those who are familiar with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise will recognize TADHANA’s similar set-up: two strangers who explore a beautiful locale and talk about anything under the sun. But being smitten at each other in less than 24 hours like Jesse and Celine is not TADHANA’s eventual fate. The pop cultural references in Jadaone’s independent film are apparent, including shout-outs on local releases Don’t Give Up On Us (2006) and One More Chance (2007). But distinctly, TADHANA strolls on its pragmatic vision of romance. It playfully debunks the reel and real aspects of love: from the romance flicks’ weepy tendencies and physiology of the ideal leading man to the outlets of heartbreak and the rocky road to recovery. It doesn’t hurry developing romance between Anthony and Mace; rather, broadens the viewer’s perception of two heartbroken characters during their impulsive outing for emotional relief. Unlike the showy declarations of love from flimsy stories onscreen, TADHANA is teeming with rewarding realizations about failed relationship and crushed aspirations – though cynic in context are optimistic especially as the film closes in an open-ended second chance for love. TADHANA is already learned of its contemporaries’ generic errors to become effective in fulfilling its own romantic destiny…
“I don’t need tissue!” is just one of Mace’s (Panganiban) many outbursts
…that it forges through its candid and concise screenplay. Talky and teasing of Mace and Anthony’s undeniable chemistry, THAT THING CALLED TADHANA (in good faith) betrays what its trailer implies as ‘finding love in country’s coldest place’. In fact, TADHANA doesn’t trek that route and instead becomes a brooding journey that starts separately for Mace and Anthony. In narrating the familiar scenario of boy-meets-girl, Jadaone remarkably surprises on creating the duo’s engaging exchanges peppered of witticism and wisdom. Except on the announcement of their sudden trip to Baguio, TADHANA abandons the unnecessary expositions of what, where, how and why and engrosses on who – Mace and Anthony whose platonic relationship is the compass of the romantic comedy. It’s a delight to see them bantering at each other but the brilliance of TADHANA’s script is the ingenious juxtaposition of every scene like a compilation of anecdotes that humanizes the characters in the process. Every scene noticeably begins with an idea which they discuss and later on connect to their individual stories, making the dialogues more resonant to the viewer. (For instance, when Mace admitted she can’t watch Don’t Give Up On Us because she saw it with her ex-boyfriend, that led to Anthony’s questioning actor John Lloyd Cruz’s appeal as a romantic leading man and finally his quip to Mace which is the first sentence of this review.)
Every presented idea (be it abstract or based on personal experience) is new and the context is not repeated on the succeeding scenes, making Mace and Anthony’s interactions more dynamic, unpredictable and realistic. Abundant of touché puns, their conversations are frank and reasonably uncensored, especially when addressing heartbreaks. But what I really appreciate is how Jadaone segues beyond the romantic aspect to give layers to her characters. Mace and Anthony’s toast to the people they would, are and will be are equally (if not exceedingly) affecting to the sulking at their break-ups. TADHANA triumphs on its playful subtlety through meaningful metaphors, particularly Mace’s luggage troubles. Those scenes don’t only speak of her emotional baggage but also shows how she deals with them regardless of the weight. Not to mention the smart personification in Mace’s short story that is important to the film’s parting message. It takes a lot of creativity to repackage the common themes of a romantic comedy but TADHANA is cleverly written, developed to be immune of those faults and cunningly articulate than what its title suggests.
Bus ride to Baguio.
What makes THAT THING CALLED TADHANA such a rewarding rom-com is that the so-called “soul-searching journey” is a two-way manifestation for the characters and the viewers. Mace releases her baggage: sorrow and anger but the real challenge is her response when the ex-boyfriend turns up at her doorstep to seek reconciliation. Meanwhile, Anthony who willingly accompanies Mace in her sudden Baguio trip becomes emotionally attached, to the point of admitting his feelings in the most ambitious and creative way. As for the audience, it was satisfying to realize the precedent of the phrase ‘that thing called tadhana’ (destiny) narrative-wise. It’s not like Mace will immediately jump into a dalliance after a long-term relationship nor Anthony slipping to flirtation to ignite romance. Maybe fate led Mace and Anthony together, but apart from the literal meaning, TADHANA builds on its characters’ intimacy rather than imposing chemistry at the expense of the story. The script will always be superior to the actors and that’s how an onscreen love story should work – by being convincing of the romance it sparked through words. Yet TADHANA also scores in its casting of Panganiban (who won Best Actress in the said film festival) and De Guzman who are instrumental in breathing Mace and Anthony’s palpable personalities (compared to the passable portrayals in English Only, Please). Perhaps it also helped that Panganiban can also associate with Mace’s romantic history while De Guzman is natural as Anthony in the incredulity and sincerity of his character. The cinematography is as crisp as the leads’ genuine emotions while the visual interplay during the contemplative voice-overs makes for a perfect and poignant match.
One of the scenes reminiscent of ‘Before Sunrise’
I mostly applauded the film’s technicalities (specifically the script) but if you ask what I personally think, THAT THING CALLED TADHANA not only exceeds my expectations for a romantic comedy but easily becomes my favorite. Not that I acknowledge it as a “hugot” film but I simply love its witty treatment of the genre. It’s the most sensible and organic love story that doesn’t have to consummate a kiss or pronounce ‘I love you-s’. It doesn’t bait its characters to a desperate search for love but naturally have love find them. It is focused on developing intimacy and discernment between two protagonists in the most economical way, unlike other films that are overpopulated by distracting personas. It offers a rare, enriching experience of romantic realizations than just the superficial kiligs. The cherry on top is the parallel story of Mace’s “The Arrow with a Heart Pierced through Him” that shines TADHANA‘s poetic charm, an enlightening take on companionship that speaks volume on Mace and Anthony’s special bond.
Pun intended, THAT THING CALLED TADHANA is a shot right through the heart. It’s a hopeless romantic-wordsmith’s retelling of one of love’s most common clichés and creates a story memorable of witty romanticism. Jadaone instantly becomes one of the exciting local filmmakers whose interpretation of love is both intriguing and knowing. Though Whitney Houston gets her share in the film’s tagline ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go‘, it’s a nice change for an OPM song (Up Dharma Down’s Tadhana) to take the final bow. TADHANA is a tangible assurance that hope is not yet lost for the genre (even if it sporadically churns quality films). All it asks is to keep a little fate.