For its third year’s offering, the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino has collected a diverse roster of films ranging from arthouse drama to mainstream romance and comedies, all exploring the running theme of Pamilya, Pagkakaibigan, Pag-ibig for its growing demographic of Filipino film lovers. In time for the centennial celebration of Philippine cinema, the ten films showcased were not only shown in theaters, in a PPP first, they all competed for the Best Picture plum in the festival.
Black Sheep’s romance drama, Open, stars Arci Munoz and JC Santos in a compelling narrative of a modern-day relationship. The story is centered on the long-time relationship, 14 years to be exact, of high school sweethearts, Ethan (Santo) and Rome (Munoz), who somehow found themselves stuck in different stages of disarray in their personal lives.
To escape from this rut, Ethan, unearths a plan to have an “open relationship”—opening themselves up to other people physically with their commitment to one another remaining deeply intact. Distraught as she was, Rome, agrees to the unorthodox setup. The experiment, however, inadvertently opened a Pandora’s box of realizations that would later on affect how they choose to live their lives, particularly that of Rome’s.
In essence, Open possesses a progressive narrative—highlighting a unique set-up in modern relationships. One that we can only see in Facebook statuses in years past but has remained taboo. It takes a lot of boldness for a mainstream production and its lead actors to portray an unfamiliar concept in relationships and commitment onscreen. In fact, Munoz, in her interview with Rank, shares that she would not do the set-up, affecting her initial reaction to whether or not to accept the project. Same goes with Santos’s values on looking for an ideal relationship set up.
This being a sensitive concept to touch on, the film’s director, Andoy Ranay sensitively navigates the intricacies and complexities of the relationship by wisely peeling off layers of each of the characters in order to understand and feel for each of them apart, before dissecting their already decaying lives together.
The beauty in Ranay’s and the film’s writers depiction of this unheard of relationship setup is on how the film chooses to zoom in closer to each of the characters who are vital cogs in making the set-up work or not than give the “novelty” of the arrangement as the main trope in the narrative.
It must also be lauded that hidden beneath the progressiveness and currency of the ideologies put forth by the story, we see a morality tale that gives no justification to the idea of cheating. This could easily go south for a movie that tries to explore something new and unchartered onscreen, but, under Ranay’s direction, it smoothly panned out. It goes back to the basics that, even with a set-up as non-traditional as an “open relationship”, respect and transparency still reign supreme.
That being said, Open is a long time coming for stage actor and television and rom-com director Andoy Ranay, who is at his best in this film. He managed to seamlessly weave the development of both characters in an honest, unembellished manner, making it easy to be one with the characters’ plights.
In the same light, Munoz gives us her best performance yet—nuanced and raw, with unbelievable sense power and restraint. She effectively portrays the slow but empowering evolution of Rome as a woman who has lost her way, in terms of her individuality, unknowingly leading a life that revolves around her relationship with Ethan.
The biggest irony of it all, in accepting and even going the lengths of pretending to agree to the set-up, she found herself—opening herself up to confront a big world of “could have been’s” that she inadvertently passed up on because of being committed to her partner.
Santos plays good foil to Munoz’s well-rounded depiction of Rome. From his depiction of a disgruntled boyfriend with an endless yearning for something “new” and “challenging” (like most men do), he also got himself in a state of self-discovery. This later on unraveled a reversal of roles, with him taking a cathartic turn, realizing how much of himself has been built and nurtured while inside a relationship he has time and again taken advantage of. On both ends of the spectrum, Santos and his sensitivity shined best.
The back-and-forth and the onscreen chemistry among its lean support cast felt organic and whole and that is to be credited to Ranay’s direction. In every sense, Open did not start and end as a romantic movie. Beyond the hugots, the steamy scenes, and its romantic arcs, it served as an empowering portrayal of one’s road to a clearer sense of self.
Is Open a perfect movie? No. But minute lapses and narrative faults aside, Black Sheep churns out yet another modern-day cinematic achievement that transports viewers in a state of wonder and self-evaluation—one that could not easily be shaken off.
*Editor’s note: PPP3 has been extended until September 26, 2019 in select cinemas in Metro Manila. Rank Magazine is a media partner of the 2019 Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.