Shining out from the muddle of cinema from the Philippines about crime and squalor, WHAT ISN’T THERE, Marie Jamora’s tastefully shot indie flick depicts well-scrubbed college students who attend indie art shows, catch their friends’ bands in small clubs, shop for used New Wave records, and hang out in cafés. That said, WHAT ISN’T THERE has enough elements of sadness and mystery to make it interesting as well as fun, intriguing as well as identifiable. Twenty-year-old Gibson, who returns to Manila after studying abroad for three years, hasn’t spoken since witnessing the death of his twin brother Jamie at the age of 10. Gibson also has imaginary conversations with Jamie when no one else is around. His refusal to talk provides more benefits than limitations. He comes off as deep, not annoying, to his friends and the use of text messages, LP sleeves, songs, and gestures to communicate with his strong-willed love interest Enid works out just fine. And with everyone else chattering away, the convention both allows and encourages further thoughts about Gibson.
Director Jamora provides plenty for the audience to think about, juxtaposing conservative Catholicism and modern technology (Gibson is obsessed with shooting and editing videos); the uptight upper class parents and the free-flowing energy of deep-pocketed college students; the pill-popping mom and the pot-smoking son. But it’s all filtered through a breezy indie rock soundtrack, simple but stylish cinematography, and naturalistic actors who actually behave and appear youthful. The already strong characters are nicely supported by the authenticity of their background, filled out with real bands, identifiable comic books, convenience stores, and street food. The fleeting nature of trends, youth culture, and young romance is further enhanced by the story’s taking place during winter break. Will Gibson ever talk? How exactly did Jamie die? Will Enid go for Gibson or her indie rock star waif of an ex-boyfriend that writes a song for her? When the director easily could have left it open-ended and arty, she bravely and refreshingly adds closure to the movie. Jamora’s conviction is as impressive and her craftsmanship in this bittersweet coming-of-age movie that successfully reaches well beyond the conventions of the genre.
Synopsis written by: Martin Wong