Sila-Sila: Tackling the Gray in Queer Relationships

by Jason Tan Liwag

▶︎ Sila-Sila (directed by Giancarlo Abrahan) is a post-break up love story between Gab (Gio Gahol) and Jared(Topper Fabregas), and how that affects their social circles. Gab returns to Manila after a year of work in Cagayan De Oro and seems to carry more emotional baggage than his luggage allows. Despite excelling at his job and developing a(n ambiguous) relationship (with a married man), Gab has difficulty reconnecting with his friends, his old life, and his now ex-boyfriend. Against the backdrop of a high school reunion, Gab is forced to confront these spectres that seem to chase after him. In the beginning, he chooses to evade and to displace himself. But, as always, life finds a way to confront.

What the film captures so successfully is how one navigates through the ambiguities of modern queer relationships, not just romantic ones. The script by Daniel Saniana is conversational, intimate, and naturalistic; a loving portrait to chillnumans everywhere. It is made to feel as if the audience is like a member of the barkada being forced to catch up as well. Though not necessarily (always) lovable, each character and each relationship is specific, complex, and rooted in some history we are left to imagine. In casting mostly theater actors (most of whom are openly members of the LGBT+ community), each character is played lovingly and respectfully, and not like archetypes or caricatures we often see in Philippine cinema. Gio Gahol manages to physicalize his character’s rich inner life: loneliness, indecisiveness, and regret, especially during the quieter moments, while Topper Fabregas is charming, confrontational, and gripping in every scene. It’s so welcome to see this kind of ownership and representation of these LGBTQIA+ narratives by members of the community.

The acting and textual decisions work in synergy with the multiple long, static takes throughout the movie that keeps up the emotional momentum thanks to Giancarlo Abrahan’s fantastic direction and pacing. This is most obvious in the scene where Gab argues with his long-time friends Kev(Phi Palmos) and Nicole (Dwein Baltazar). The joyful reunion evolves into an inebriated fight (or is it really a intervention?) between the friends, then it quickly dissipates like a tiny tornado. The sequence is emotional and hilarious because it is almost too big given the nature of the film, the size of the apartment, and even the topics. But it seamlessly exhumes years worth of unaddressed problems that solidifies their historical connection and also explains their current distance from one another.

Though the film isn’t without its faults. The ending is rushed; a deus ex machina that did not feel tonally consistent or as realistically grounded as the rest of the film. The abrupt death of Jared’s mom seems to be a device to test their relationship and the scenes after it don’t feel as authentic as the rest of the film. In contrast to this, the most interesting parts are in the mundane: as it weaves so much smaller representations of each character’s inner life and their dynamics with one another.

Read the complete essay on Jason Tan Liwag's website.

Jason Tan Liwag is a Sine Critico Filipino member.