"I loved you when you were unfaithful; what would I have done if you were true?" - Jean Racine
The topic of infidelity in the Philippine context is one not often discussed; not seriously, anyway. It's common fodder for Filipinos to laugh and jest at the trailblazing ways of celebrity (Ramon Revilla Sr. and his over seventy children come to mind), or be moved and caught up in the melodramas that make news (Kris Aquino/Joey Marquez scandal comes to mind) but it is so rare that we look critically at this aspect of our culture. Dennis Marasigan's Sa North Diversion Road (On the North Diversion Road) does just that.
Adapted by Marasigan from the stage play by the brilliant Tony Perez, Sa North Diversion, an entry into last year's Cinema One Originals contest, is a searing indictment of the Filipino male. Comprised of ten conversations between a man and a woman on the theme of infidelity, the film essays the topic by interrogating its effect on a relationship after-the-fact. John Arcilla and Irma Adlawan (Marasigan's wife, incidentally), veterans of the theater version of Sa North Diversion, give equally brilliant turns playing all the ten couples. Their performances- tempered, measured-engage the audience intellectually while still connecting with them emotionally.
Some may consider the film's structure, ten conversations taking place in a car between exits along an expressway, to be gimmicky-and it is-but it is also a brilliant device through which to tackle head-on the topic at hand. By isolating the characters in a car on a long journey, Perez and Marasigan force them (and in turn the audience) to confront the issue without escape, avoiding the possibilities that could come up should the film have taken place anywhere else (one character walking out, for example). Presenting different couples in different exits allows the film to be thorough and relentless in its dissection of the psychology of men and women dealing with infidelity, showing us the wide array of ways people deal with the issue-from a dialogue-less episode were the characters avoid the topic and fight over the radio or snacks instead to an intense and hilariously creative insult-hurling match, to more somber toned affairs.
The ordering of the episodes or conversations also plays a very big part in the way we receive the film as an audience. Marasigan and Perez know their audience well and order the episodes in a very specific way: introducing the topic, entertaining them, and then bringing it to a serious level for a thought-provoking ending.
The first conversation in the film illustrates an example of infidelity by way of flashback (it is the only episode that shows infidelity): presenting us with a typical case of how it may happen, and then demonstrating, through the wife who finds out, the emotional trauma it inflicts. After establishing the gravity of the action, the succeeding four episodes of the film proceed to take a lighter (though no less insightful and poignant) approach: we are shown, for example, a couple speaking in a musical, poetic tone, as the husband apologizes profusely for his actions, and wins again her favor through promises of loyalty and dowry, and a fun and frivolous type of wife (who wants everything pink, for reasons we discover later) who seems to be taking things lightly, until she (still in laugh-mode) warns of the classic eye-for-an-eye stance: if he can have an affair, then so can she. The laughing stops.
These four episodes serve a dual function: on the level of content they naturally are examples of reactions couples may have to the situation, but on the level of structure, they ease the audience-one bred on jokes about Ramon Revilla's "legacy" and enraptured by Kris' antics-into the subject, and set them up for the somberness in tone that will follow.
The succeeding three episodes are more serious and melancholic. We are presented with an apologetic husband of a mentally unstable wife, a contrite husband and vengeful wife, and a clinical, intellectual couple that share the blame for what has happened, and believe that there's only one, fatal way to correct it.
The ninth episode is the odd one out, being the only instance wherein the two characters are not husband and wife (though still played by Arcilla and Adlawan). In this episode we are riding with a young singer (Adlawan) and a reputed songwriter (Arcilla), both on their way to Baguio where she will perform. He announces to her his engagement to his long-time girlfriend, and she concedes of her affection for him. "Why are you getting married?" she asks, "Because of social expectations? For posterity? Security?" After engaging in the eight previous scenarios with couples dealing with infidelity, we are now shown one of a man newly engaged (in dialogue with the possible lover he will take in the future?), allowing important questions to be raised about why we choose to marry.
The tenth and final conversation retains the profession of the male character in the ninth (songwriter), presenting a possible end for he and his wife in the future (revealing as well, that the first eight conversations were scenarios he dreamed up along the ride). The tone is melancholic. They have been married for sixteen years. The wife is sick and will die soon; the husband is apologetic and contrite for his actions. Though she is understanding and kind-she even proposes, and with no sense of bitterness, but rather, only love and concern, that he marry his lover, the singer in the previous episode, after she dies-the damage has been done, and the pain inflicted. He tells her of a song he wishes to write, about a husband and wife who love each other. The man makes a mistake; the woman gets hurt; the man wakes up; and the woman still forgives him. "A song about infidelity?" she asks, "No, a song about love." he replies. He cries and professes to her "I love you"; she says with love what in an earlier episode was said with resentment, "Thank you, I feel so much better now".
We feel and understand the sincerity with which they speak their words, the love that exists between them. Yet there is a genuine sadness that pervades the air, lingering on the screen, and in the heart of the viewer. And it is in this implacable sadness that is revealed the thesis of Marasigan's film and Perez's script: no amount of understanding or acceptance can undo what is lost when one is unfaithful.
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