On Joseph Abello's "What Home Feels Like"

by Richard Bolisay


▶︎ One of the things that can attest to the malleability of cinema as an art form, which adds to the complexity of reading it, is the possibility of not liking the film but liking what it leaves you. An example is What Home Feels Like: It has way too many untightened screws, a creative decision that seems deliberate since it also wants to show the forged affection between a father and his family, in a way emphasizing the hollow he has left over the years of being away from home. His unawareness of this void — between his wife and him, and between his children and him — is the source of strain, and his subsequent awareness of it releases it, creating heavier drama and melancholy.


But watching What Home Feels Like isn’t exactly a fine experience: It overdoes the “subtlety” card and extends sequences and adds images that do not particularly complement its narrative, its idea of depth hinged on putting more. This results in a film that manages to get across a picture of a family set apart by emotional distance, the pain and pity that such situation brings, and a viewing torment that sees plenty of opportunities wasted because of the mistaken preference for superfluity. The drama needs more focus than tedium, more tightening than floating, but the director decides to fill the film with fluff and bloats it with unnecessary details, oftentimes resorting to predictable television devices.


There is this one sequence in which the estranged father tries to reach out to his children. He goes to his son’s room, who is hesitant to let him in, and talks to him. He says “I love you.” The son doesn’t reply. He steps out. The father then sees his daughter on her way to her room and chats with her, talks to her the same way he has talked to his son. He says “I love you.” She replies but not with the exact words. He walks back sadly. Then a few sequences later, he overhears his son opening up to his mother, crying, and telling her he loves her. Sometime afterward, he eavesdrops on a hushed conversation between his daughter and his wife, the intimacy between them, which he has never experienced since arriving home, unquestionable. One can understandably tear up upon realizing the connection of these moments, which can be quite overwhelming in their effect — and there are many in the film, to be fair — scenes that allow one to reflect on a personal level. They are scattered, and they just need some sorting out. ***


Richard Bolisay is a film critic. This was previously published on his blog Lilok Pelikula as part of "Dispatches from ToFarm Film Festival 2017 (Part 1)," July 17 2017.

EMAIL: gaslightph@gmail.com.

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