John Torres went through a personal crisis when he was 27 years old – he had to deal with the end of a 13 year relationship with his first girlfriend. He was 14 years old when they started and he was quick to point out that he practically spent half of his life with his now ex-girlfriend. The break-up was devastating for John; he decided to give everything up. He quit his job and embarked to start a new life. He decided to make films to deal with his loss, his pain, his angst. He needed to make films to heal himself.
His healing came in the form of three short yet very personal films now called the Love Trilogy or Otros Trilogy. John Torres’ first film is Tawidgutom (2005), barely 3 minutes long yet full of anticipation, desire, longing, waiting, searching, expectation, frustration, surrender, and resignation. Ultimately, it leads to temporary yet unfulfilling satisfaction. John uses his own voice for the voice-over which is not necessarily a narration of what is shown visually. His voice-over is more of a poetic accompaniment to the visuals. His emotions resonate in his voice. Soothing music permeates the aural elements of the film. The poetic images are coupled with poetic subtitles. There are several layers of texts here: the film text, the voice-over, and the subtitles. The intertextuality of these texts enriches the film.
Salat , John’s second short film is his most personal. Composed of several vignettes like Ang Huling Serbetes, Laro sa Buwan, Miklos Fehrer (Portuguese footballer, told using words on a black screen) and Kulob, John’s intensely personal moment with his ex-girlfriend caught on film. John Torres reveals to us his pain and trusts us to share it with him. He says in the voice-over, “If you are watching this, I trust you.” Torres draws us into his world. John himself appears in Kulob, he is “Kulob.” He films his very personal moment with his ex-girlfriend who visited him after two years of being apart. In a dimly lit room with just the light of the camera’s LCD illuminating them and the sound from the other room filtering in, John coaxes her to cry. Nervous and self-conscious at first, she prods him not to film it. It is a game they play, said John, he plays the director, and she plays the actress. After a few seconds, tears roll down her cheeks slowly as John slows down the scene. The sound is muted, there is no need for that now; her silent tears are as powerful as Edward Munch’s The Scream. We have been witness to one of the most poignant scenes filmed in recent memory.
As John whispers over and over throughout the film, “Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts,” we are sure he is convincing himself to think happy thoughts, willing himself to get over the loss, coaxing himself to be happy, as if saying goodbye to pain.
When John finished Salat, she watched the film. John left her alone in the room so she can watch it alone. He came back after a few minutes to find her crying. He asked her if she understood what he wanted to say. He again went out to give her time to compose herself. John admits that Salat helped him in having closure, though they did have an off-camera closure, and we are privy to the John’s farewell to pain. Having explored his pain through Salat, John was able to survive his personal crisis and remained philosophical about his fate, “surrender sa kung ano nangyari (I surrender myself to what can happen).”
Kung Paano Kita Liligawan Nang Di Kumakapit sa Iyo? (How Can I Court You Without Ever Holding You?) is the 13 minute third installment to the Love/Otros Trilogy. It provides a closure to the series of themes of desire, longing, and loss in the trilogy. We are privy to a taped phone call by John’s ex-girlfriend where she thanks him and sings a couple of love songs herself noting that some lyrics are apt for the situation. One senses a feeling of letting go on the part of John Torres as he trains his camera now on his friends and how they cope through their struggles.
Moving to another equally personal topic, John Torres fourth short film Gabi Noong Sinabi ng Ama Kong May Anak Siya sa Labas (Night When Father Told Me That He Has A Child Outside). Here John tries to explore the painful topic of his father’s infidelity and its effect on their family. The film has an angrier tone with harsher music compared to the soothing music in the Love/Otros trilogy. It is as if John is lashing out at his father for his infidelity. John writes a letter to his father on film:
Because you left me without a wall to punch
a cloud to dry, the wind to shout to, and plants
to drown. I will play the flute for the wake of my
first tragedy. Let’s see what happens.
The anger is evident; the need for release is palpable. A jamming scene in a side street ensues, as if John in exorcises his father’s demons through drums, percussions and dancing.
John received a Hubert Bals Fund grant to develop Gabi Noong Sinabi ng Ama Kong May Anak Siya sa Labas into a full length film. It has evolved into his 2nd full-length film Years when I was a child outside.
John Torres’ four short films are more than personal films; they are confessions from the heart of John Torres. They are filled with desire, loss, infidelity, longing, and redemption. Ultimately, they are short films about love.
Written in March 2007.
*A Short Film about Love, 1988, Krzysztof Kieslowski