Short Film: Love directed and written by Martin Jose Ponferrada Summary: Two Ends of a Spectrum The film takes place in two timelines and involves two couples from different continents. The Australian couple, Walt and Ruth, lives in the present and are bickering on account of the husband’s obsession to catch flies that to his wife’s dismay, resulted to the neglect of his household chores. The Filipino couple lives in the memory of the husband, Jessie.
He remembers his wife, Appollonia, as an activist writer who died during the height of martial law in the Philippines. The paths of Jessie, Walt and Ruth intersect in the lawn of Walt and Ruth where Jessie works as one of their Asian gardeners. Unexpectedly, Jessie gets in the middle of the couple’s domestic war by being forced to serve as a witness to the suspicious death and capture of a fly. In the end, Walt and Jessie become mates because Jessie seems to have chosen to testify for the sake of saving Walt’s reputation from his wife.
Reflection: Of Diaspora, Dichotomies and Dreams Love is a short film that contains a long list of themes. It is undoubtedly a diaspora story but it does not put the emotionally charged motifs of economic inequality, violent discrimination and incessant racism at the center of its conflict. It is with a striking subtlety that the ethnically based social hierarchies in an Anglo-Celtic settler society such as Australia are shown. This is done by describing a group of Asian gardeners in the lawn of the Australian couple.
Even if the writer-director is well aware of the diversity of Asians, there is no attempt to differentiate these Asian workers. This is in the same regard that for some conservative Australians, Asians are generally seen as a homogenous people who started migrating during the 1850s Gold Rush and continued entering the country as mail-order brides in the 1980s. In this sense, the Orientalist view is used in framing the character of the Asians.
The stereotype is embodied through indistinct blue-collared Asians, working for a middle class Australian couple. It further extends this image by their peeping-tom-like and snickering gestures indicating wanton escape from their back-breaking labor. As the Asians are projected this manner, a double vision occurs while these Asians are seen by the audience amusing themselves by secretly listening and watching the Australian couple quarrel about their laundry and the husband’s ill-attempt to catch flies.
The entertainment the Australian couple gives to the Asians represents how Australian society is in turn viewed by Asians—funny, strange and oftentimes, entertaining. So as the audience gazes at the Asians through an Orientalist lens, the Asians in turn return the gaze secretly and laughably. This therefore shows how the Orientalist framing used in the beginning was in fact instrumental to return the gaze, which seems to be the film’s primary intention. Jessie is the only gardener whose Asianness will soon be identified.
This aloof character is isolated from the rest as he chooses not to join the amused spectators. His identity will be revealed through a flashback of his younger years in the streets of Manila during the era of Marcos’ martial law. The dilapidated building he enters, with a prostitute along his path, then the argument (about killings in the streets) he will get home to between his wife and work colleague, Logan, powerfully and effectively highlights an era of unrest, poverty, economic uncertainty, political depravity and social corruption.
Through such imageries, Jessie is given a past, a history, hence, providing his character more depth and empathy compared to the rest. These imageries are effective because while they powerfully continue the stereotype of third-world urbanity, they in turn depict a character with emotional depth and a painful past, as opposed to other protagonists in the story. In these parts, Jessie, the subaltern, is allowed to speak, in the loudest possible way—through actions, sounds and images, with minimal dialogue.
Juxtaposing the petty quarrel about the killing of flies in a private house, with the heated argument of Appollonia and Logan, about the killing of people, effectively dichotomizes two societies faced with their own pressing concerns where people are forced to do what they can to survive. For Australia, the overpopulation of flies is on account of their long droughts that have done more damage to the distorted food cycle and instability of their ecosystem. The squabble between Walt and Ruth presents some of the ways that private homes deal with this public problem.
It is an ingenious and humorous way of showing how people deal with a serious environmental concern in the oddest of ways. In the Philippines, those who have lived and survived the Marcos regime, each have their own memories to remember and tell. For Jessie, debates about the killing of people were simply part of the everyday conversations he remembers before the death of his wife. The result of living during these times however led to a more violent result for him—witnessing the murder of his wife.
The couple’s bitter struggle in a volatile society and how one of them managed to survive is but a slice of one of the many parts of a disheveled society’s grand narrative. Recalling these events allows Jessie to understand, appreciate and make sense of his current place and position. That a couple’s private quarrel triggers painful memories of Jessie’s country embroiled in social unrest, speaks of how the presence of immigrants at certain periods in Australia’s history has its own brand of political underpinnings, since many arrived in Australia as political refugees.
This is real until today where immigrants from war-torn Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and other terrorist-labeled countries, are kept at bay in leased islands, to prevent the infiltration of potential terrorist cells or possible sources of social disruption. Therefore, halfway through the story, the theme of political exiles finding security, an honest living and a home in Australia is given light through Jessie who is now away from his country and the ravages of a dictatorship.
Jessie’s background is one story out of thousands who come from all over the world, contributing to the changing landscape of Australia’s history. The genius of Ponferrada as writer and director is showcasing the diaspora theme without the need for a dramatic face-to-face encounter between immigrants and non-immigrants. It is through continuities and ruptures in the dialogue and settings that he highlights this theme. This was first done when Jessie and Appollonia each asks and says, one after the other: “Work? ”, Work” under different contexts, referring to the demanding tasks of Appolonia’s job, to be followed by Walt, back in his Australian kitchen, with a commanding voice, saying, “Work”, this time talking to his “fly-trap invention. ” Here, the film threads together the continuum of Jessie’s past life to his present country. The overlapping dialogue and the sudden shift in settings will be repeated later, when Ruth’s voice calling, “Jessie” would be heard in Jessie’s imagination, when he last saw his wife before she was murdered.
Through the intersections in the dialogue and settings, Jessie’s past slowly moves toward becoming part of the present. Leading to the end of the story, Jessie is held hostage as a witness for the death of a fly. While Walt and Ruth anxiously await his testimony, African drums in the background are played, the same sounds heard in the beginning when scenes of Manila were first showed. The music continues until the last scene when Jessie and Walt sit side by side in the yard, indicating how Walt managed to save his reputation through Jessie’s testimony in favor of Walt.
At this point, the story takes a postcolonial direction as its deus ex machina comes not from the dominant cultural protagonist but Jessie, the Asian gardener. The “feel good” closing of the story with the familiar music shows how Jessie now confronts and deals with a different brand of politics; this time, it is the domestic politics between Walt and Ruth, in this new land. Jessie and Walt are shown to be victorious as the mates talk about the ‘dictator’ that is Ruth, who Walt has subverted, thanks to Jessie, his new-found mate.
At the same time and at another level, the film celebrates Jessie’s successful escape from the Philippine dictator. The camaraderie highlighted in the end speaks of a shared dream among all Australians—that each and every person would find means to learn and benefit from one other across gender, race and beliefs. It shows the need to continuously build and shape a community because amidst differing backgrounds exist a real, shared and common humanity.
Moreover, the continuous beat of these same African drums symbolize the extension of Jessie’s life, from Manila, to his new found home. Therefore while the old immigrants represented by British explorers and settlers were the country’s first heroes, the film emphasizes that the heroes of today rest on its new immigrants. This is testament to the fact that the success of Australia’s society depends heavily on the coalescing of its immigrants, amidst gender, ethnic background and religion.