Believe me, romance is a difficult thing, not just to tell, but to experience.
There are millions of complications, both big and small: different personalities have to be aligned, priorities have to be negotiated, even the pettiest of misunderstandings have to be addressed and patched up. However, the pleasures of a good romance are simply immeasurable, making all the fuss worthwhile.
When a movie comes along and promises to be romantic, you can’t help but expect it to at least scrape the surface of both the challenges and rewards of what you’ve gone through. When that movie fails to connect at all, more out of what seems to be sheer laziness and cluelessness rather than any other reason, it’s bound to be painful. In that sense, Gil Portes’ Moonlight Over Baler had me severely heartbroken.
A tale of two loves
While exploring Baler, Japanese photographer Kenji (Vin Abrenica) chances upon Aurora (Ellen Adarna), and eventually falls in love with her. While walking around the local market, former teacher Fidela (Elizabeth Oropesa) spots Kenji, which reminds her of Nestor (also Abrenica), her great love who died at the hands of the Japanese during the war.
Fidela and Kenji eventually meet. Fidela, enamored by Kenji’s resemblance to her former flame, decides to help Kenji woo Aurora by teaching him to speak Tagalog.
The movie is all about appearances.
Its title, seemingly culled from a hit song that met newfound popularity in the Philippines because of Paolo Santos’ crooning, projects alluring images of star-crossed romance. Its conceit of having a tale of two loves from different generations converge because of characters who share the same face brims with promise and appeal. Its ambition of covering relevant periods in history should deliver epic breadth.
Unfortunately, Moonlight Over Baler doesn’t get past its barren façade. The movie is devoid of the lyricism its title evokes. The story is a mishmash of missed opportunities. Its grasp of history is elementary, with a lot of the period scenes feeling quite forced and stilted.
What is most disappointing about Moonlight Over Baler isn’t its shoddy crafting or its grating lack of imagination, but its juvenile appreciation of romance.
Its central love story, the one between Kenji and Aurora, is bereft of tension and consequence. Both Kenji and Aurora are driven by sheer narrative convenience. There is also a love triangle lurking in the middle of the plot, but even that easy device is handled too sloppily to add any semblance of excitement to the romance.
Fidela’s thread is more interesting. However, it is also wasted, serving no real purpose other than to support Kenji and Aurora’s tedious tale.
Oversimplification of romance
In the end, Moonlight Over Baler is a movie that unnecessarily and unconsciously celebrates the oversimplification of romantic emotions. It imagines itself to be grand and sweeping, but beneath its gaudy trappings, is something quite tepid and uninspiring. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.