Watching Joven Tan's "Magdamag" (The Tryst) is like watching a chamber play that only Monique Wilson's New Voice Company seems to be staging here. It's a rare form of film execution that slow burns a cinematic brew. And it requires patience and commitment from the audience, but the payback is gratifying.
As a theatrical piece, chamber play is a form performed in a minimum number of acts, played by a small cast with practically no set, no costumes, and small space. The form zeroes in on the didactic narrative rather than the foibles that characterize the fluff in stage musicals. This form produced the likes of Max Reinhardt and August Strindberg. And we are saying that "Magdamag" is presented similar to the intimacy of a chamber play.
Like the recent "Two Funerals", the story takes place during the Holy Week when 37 year old Soledad (Rita Avila) meets 22 year old Joven (Edgar Allan Guzman) at a club in Boracay. They hook up and eventually end up in his pad, physically and emotionally disrobing each other between a series of intercourse.
Sol initially personifies the vulgar cougar, but in the course of their conversation, we learn more about her: she's a teacher, has 2 children, has endured several separations, and is married to a guy 15 years her senior. We also learn about Joven: a firedancer who hails from a religious town called New Washington (Aklan), is 15 years Sol's junior, and is engaged to an elder Swedish woman who plans to retire in Boracay. He cooks her post-coital omelet, while she offers him mallorca gin. Each word of disclosure brings them closer to each other, but by 4 AM, after another round of intercourse, it becomes clear that they are discontented souls who have disconsolate resignation to their fate. Will this tryst be their last? As Sol leaves Joven, copious tears are being shed. Joven writes down his mobile number. He hands his card to her. Then Sol walks back to the gentle shores as the sun gradually rises into Good Friday.
You have to simply listen to the words and watch Rita Avila at work as she confidently and deftly rides at the interplay of conversational paradoxes that come alive in Ms. Avila's verbal tussle with Edgar Allan Guzman, who suffers in terms of gravitas. When Sol offers to give him a blowjob, and he winces with embarrassment, she provokes him, "Di na titigas yan, ano?" "Bakla ba ang naka devirginize sa yo?" Then she continues, "Mga lalaki sa Pilipinas, lahat may karanasan sa bading!" Annoyed by her taunts, he pulls down his pants and forces his crotch on her mouth, which provoked a curiously contradictory reaction. She gags and turns to the sink to vomit.
Guzman needs to acquire a degree of pluckiness to counter Avila's delicious provocations. After all, despite his character's youth, Joven is a ripe 22. He isn't so innocent from the ways of the world - what with him marrying a foreigner for her house-buying inclination. Isn't that a naive case of pseudo-prostitution?
Writer Jerry Gracio turns in a smart script that gives director Joven Tan a substantial material far removed from the director's mediocre past. Unfortunately, the script at times becomes self-indulgent. Gracio sometimes forgets the logic within his verbal diarrhea: e.g. After another round of coitus, Sol turns to TV and watches porn, and complains, "Ano ba yan, wala man lang akong mapanood, kahit Wowowee." At 10:30PM she's expects to see Wowowee?
Despite the seemingly risky conversation pieces, there is nothing visually graphic for those expecting flesh and kink. Look elsewhere for your fix of genitalia (like the current pink film "Indie Boys") and graphic sex. Majority of the scenes happen inside a room, thus there is hardly a change of view. That, in itself, is a daunting task for the story teller who has to make his topics a little more florid to sustain attention.
It is a tall order to mention Reinhardt and Strindberg in the same breath as Joven Tan, the director of cringe-worthy films like "Tutok" and "Dalaw", but this film is without a doubt a decent work. It deserves my most gracious applause. It isn't for those whose idea of cinematic fun is a slap-happy scene, a rabid car chase, a naked pubescent hero, tech-savvy CG effects, or a finger-snapping terpsichorean swirl. "Magdamag" doesn't have any of those. It is simply a compelling piece of thought-provoking, neuron-inspiring character study.