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MANILA, Philippines – “Shift” is not a love story. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.
Estela (Yeng Constantino) is a free-spirited call center agent, who like many others in her generation, is struggling for direction in her life. Despite her countless interests and ambitions, Estella finds every conceivable excuse to continue her stalled career inside a cubicle. But when she befriends her supposedly homosexual co-worker Trevor (Felix Roco), she sparks a connection with him that, unfortunately, affects her in more ways than she realizes.
Written and directed by Siege Ledesma, “Shift” explores gender, love and culture in a story whose quirky exterior only masks its statement on youth. But while the temptation for the heavy-handed is clearly present, Ledesma settles for something more intimate.
The odd relationship of Estella and Trevor is pretensed on friendship, but is obviously rooted in something far personal. Their charming chemistry is only punctuated by their dyed hair and childish undercuts. But against anyone’s better judgment, they shouldn’t be in love.
Ledesma challenges herself with a premise that is immediately problematic, but all that more interesting. When sexual preference becomes the immediate obstacle of love, what real choice does anyone have?
It would be easy to pin “Shift” as another girl meets gay story, but it also wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Ledesma’s interest in gender and role reversal plays a significant role in the film’s dynamic and in Estela and Trevor’s relationship.
But it’s singer-songwriter Yeng Constantino’s portrayal of the flightly and headstrong Estela that gives meat to her character’s bones. On screen, we see no one but Estela, and despite the usual apprehensions surrounding Constantino’s debut as an actress, any praise she receives feels well deserved.
It becomes unfortunate then, that “Shift” clocks only a little over an hour. Despite a handful of endearing moments between Estella and Trevor, neither is given the opportunity nor the screen time to give us any more than than a brief look into their lives. Ledesma is kind enough to let us eavesdrop into their conversation, but we are never really sit down with either of them.
But these demands on Shift’s story isn’t simply because it is lacking, but because it is important.
It would be easy to dimiss Ledesma’s attempts at a counter-culture love story to be youthfully naïve, but to say that these issues aren’t wholly relevant to generations before and beyond us would seem deaf to a much larger picture of our nation’s youth.
Ledesma has something great to say with “Shift,” but unfortunately, she’s a few words short of saying it.
Search for identity
“Shift” is about transition; the motion from one state to another. It then becomes ironic that ‘shift’ in this sense is understood as a block of time. A period of work. A necessary evil to the end of the day. Instead of change, Estela finds herself no different than she had been at the start of her story, if not slightly scarred.
If “Shift” tells us anything, it is a subtle reminder that we do not choose who we love. The film is blinded by its own innocent naivety, but even that is grounded by an unmistakable honesty. When Estella is ultimately unable to distinguish affection from friendship, we realize that Estella’s unwillingness to let go is also rooted in her unwillingness to grow up.
“Shift” is never quite the statement on call center culture that many may have hoped it to be. It is, however, a more telling reminder of the problems of youth. Ledesma offers no real answers to the questions she puts forward, nor does she need to. Estella and Trevor are each other’s unanswered question.
But “Shift” isn’t a love story. It is a search for identity. And Estella, like the countless others just like her, is still searching.
Watch the trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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