Teoriya follows Jimmuel II (Alfred Vargas) as he searches for the grave of his estranged father in the outskirts of Zamboanga City. Apparently no one in the town knows where the father was buried so he goes from cemetery to cemetery to look for him. ‘
I have a hard time believing that premise. In the Philippines, burials are community affairs, so there is always someone in the town who is bound to know where someone is buried, especially if the burial happened just a few years back, as in the case of Jimmuel’s father. If I were him, I would ask the whereabouts of my dad’s burial from my father’s close friends. (I would understand if he can’t ask from his father’s relatives but I can’t tell you why without giving away a crucial revelation) If no one among them knows (which is highly unlikely), I would go to the church and ask the priests or the sacristans who might have been part of the burial service. Or I would proceed to the funeral parlors. Surely they must have kept records of their clients. But these boring, realistic things would not make a great film. It would not allow you to film pretty visuals of the countryside. It is not as romantic as going on a road trip to visit different cemeteries and make you exhausted and exasperated. It won’t give you that shot where you’re standing on a tombstone looking far away in the distance. It won’t make you empathize with Jimmuel’s character.
That is my sole beef with the film. If you get past this premise, Teoriya actually surprises you with its quiet beauty and humour coming from unexpected places. Silence in Pinoy films is very rare. The premium is always on talking and moving the plot forward. That is why Teoriya, with its meandering pace and focus on mood rather than plot, is a welcome respite. Zurich Chan, the writer and director, hails from Zamboanga City and his love for his hometown is very evident in the way he captures idyllic rural images, in his understanding of how the different languages (Tagalog, Chavacano, Cebuano) are used by appropriate characters, and in the way he imitates the provincial pace – unhurried, unmindful of the hustle and bustle of city life, leisurely.
Alfred Vargas is a charismatic and effective lead. He is in almost every frame of the movie and I can’t remember a false note with his performance. If award-giving bodies do their work, he should easily get a nomination. Sue Prado appeared near the end of the film as the mysterious woman who caught Jimmuel’s eye. Her lovely performance makes you wish that she appeared much earlier in the movie.
Zurich Chan shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker. I will fall in line for his next film, that’s for sure.