Filipino movies

‘Whether the Weather is Fine’ review: A comedy of tragedies

Jason Tan Liwag
‘Whether the Weather is Fine’ review: A comedy of tragedies

FIRST LOOK. Daniel Padilla and Rans Rifol in 'Kun Maupay Man It Panahon'

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Despite creating an audiovisual feast with arresting lead performances, Carlo Francisco Manatad’s ‘Whether the Weather is Fine’ is a polarizing reimagining of how communities respond to adversity in a typhoon-ravaged area

Midway through Whether the Weather is Fine, Norma (Charo Santos-Concio) is looking for her husband amidst a sea of survivors, when suddenly a flash mob begins. Standing still while hundreds dance to Ivor B’s “Tahong ni Karla” and a lion roars from atop the astrodome in the distance, Norma seems to be the only sane person left in the community ravaged by a super typhoon. In any other place in the world, such a situation would be relegated as absurdity. But to those of us who have to regularly outlive such storms in the Philippines, the scene is closer to reality than one might think.

These intersections between the quotidian and the ridiculous are characteristic of Carlo Francisco Manatad’s films. From unemployed nightclub dancers practicing new tricks from Thailand in Junilyn Has (2015) to an albino zoo caretaker attempting to empathize with the animals around them in Tisay, Prinsesa ng Kagubatan (2020), Manatad’s work hyperfocuses on the peculiarities of day-to-day life that we often overlook. Relying heavily on visual storytelling rather than dialogue, his work shines a light on humorous moments in otherwise tragic circumstances and reflects power imbalances, especially against authority figures.

His debut narrative feature Whether the Weather is Fine (Kun Maupay Man It Panahon) continues this tradition, but on a larger scale. Set in post-Yolanda Tacloban, Miguel (Daniel Padilla) wakes up to find their house in ruins. After reuniting with his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol) and his mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio), they make plans to leave the city before the next storm arrives.

Whammy Alcazaren’s production design puts Tacloban in a time machine, recreating a city of rubble and the recognizable. With visually arresting cinematography by Teck Siang Lim and an entrancing synth score by Roman Dymny, we observe the trio as they navigate the city, walking past abandoned Kodak stores and through muddied hallways, in an attempt to register for the ship and leave the island. 

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Whether the Weather is Fine captures the liminal feeling of being in between disturbances, distorting the perception of space and time, only cutting through every now and then to announce contradictory information about an upcoming storm surge. However, as the day continues, the three slowly realize their ideas of escape, safety, and home are different: Norma decides to look for her estranged husband; Andrea wants to migrate to Manila to become a nightclub singer, even if it means leaving Miguel’s mother behind; and Miguel refuses to leave without either of them in tow.

Most of the film remains wordless, but even the conversations themselves feel like gibberish. Manatad’s filmmaking peppers the film with magic realism: one example of which sees a flying carabao attached to a bahay kubo arriving out of nowhere to bring Miguel to his mother, a scene reminiscent of My Neighbor Totoro. It’s this whimsy that keeps the film afloat during the film’s most depressing moments.

As the irreverent and foul-mouthed Norma, Charo Santos-Concio subverts her popular image in Maalaala Mo Kaya and delivers a performance that is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking. Meanwhile, Padilla churns out his career-best performance in silence, communicating only through his pleading eyes, with his bad boy image slowly giving way to reveal Miguel’s surprisingly sensitive side. But the true stunner is Rans Rifol, whose violent beginnings are later curbed; her singing becoming a way of pacifying not only her inner rage but also distracting others from their communal misery.

‘Whether the Weather is Fine’ review: A comedy of tragedies

The film takes the risk of putting the audience into the subjective reality of those ravaged by the storm, allows us to inhabit their headspace, and paints a portrait of a community whose response is not united. Instead, it is fractured and still in flux — taking on a semi-fugue state while others are busy clinging onto semblances of order in authoritarianism and in religion. Whether the Weather is Fine refuses to homogenize the community’s response towards tragedy and breathes life into characters who are even in the background — men fighting over bread on the beach, women in wedding gowns lining up for relief goods, children singing “Star ng Pasko” as a Christmas carol, elderly women praying in their makeshift seaside church, people attempting to rebuild their homes even if their home is no longer habitable.

Storms are often portrayed as seismic events. But in a country that is constantly weathered by disaster multiple times a year (increasingly and more violently due to climate change and political instability), one cannot help but marvel at how banal Manatad chooses to depict devastation. It presents people who are forced to suffer through corrupt circumstances and inept and unapologetic military men. As people struggle to survive, attempt to keep themselves distracted, or even stare into space out of numbness, the protagonists of Whether the Weather is Fine see beyond the bureaucracy and the security theater.

While I loved the film (on its own and as a piece for discussion), there is an uneasy feeling that settles in after, one that stays even as I am writing this months later. At first, I dismissed the feeling as a craving for catharsis: the kind of quick fixes and false solutions we’ve been trained to seek and accept in poorly made disaster films. Only after some time does the discomfort name itself: the film falls short in depicting the specificity of the tragedy, especially by omitting the failures of the Aquino administration immediately after and years later; all of which has been characteristic to what carves Typhoon Yolanda in national and international memory.

By broadening the film to represent any other typhoon, Whether the Weather is Fine connects it to our history of storms and to the larger damages from climate change and structural violence. But not every storm is Typhoon Yolanda, and in its treatment, it also loosens its tether to the tragedy it draws its story from. The film does not condone the government missteps nor does it absolve it of its incompetence, as we see glimpses of the military personnels’ scattered and directionless efforts. Despite its good intentions, by leaving the oppressive forces mostly out of frame, it leaves the kinds of gaps that make it possible to blame the masses for their disobedience and their demise.

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We must acknowledge that our viewing experience of Whether the Weather is fine will undoubtedly depend not only on our own constructions of and relationships with trauma and healing, but also our own proximity to the events that inspired it. Watching the film last year, especially after the onslaught of Typhoon Odette, made for an incredibly disquieting confrontation: laughter followed by immediate regret. In that discomfort, a plethora of questions arrive, albeit a bit late: are we ready for a comedy about the tragedies of today? Will the film’s abstractions of ongoing, cyclical suffering help connect it to larger truths? Or will it alienate audiences whose stories it draws from? Such questions and critique are inevitable, even necessary, in any discussion of collective trauma.

Yet do I have any answers? I wish I did. –

“Whether the Weather is Fine” will be streaming on KTX until March 6, 2022.

Jason Tan Liwag

Jason Tan Liwag is an openly gay scientist, actor, and writer. As a film critic, he is an alumnus of the IFFR Young Critics Programme 2021, the FEFF Film Campus 2021, the Yamagata Film Criticism Workshop 2021, and the CINELAB Workshop 2020 and has served as a jury member for film festivals locally and internationally.