The Piolitical Landscape
Love Me Again (Land Down Under)
Director: Rory B. Quintos
Cast: Piolo Pascual, Angel Locsin
One cannot write about Rory Quintos’ Love Me Again (Land Down Under) without reviewing Piolo’s abs. Those yummy hunks of toasted brown pandesal—sarap gawing agahan—are practically the film’s centerpiece. Forgive the bias, I may exaggerate a bit, but seriously, Piolo’s abs are like the film’s visual motif or something. If you’re not seeing the actual six-pack onscreen, you see it in the form of Bukidnon’s rolling mountain ranges or Australia’s dry but sensuous dunes, the rippling backdrop to the lovers’ narrative.
This isn’t just cheap body worship doing the talking. It could be, partly, but all things considered, Love Me Again is essentially about fetishism anyway. We might as well be blunt about it.
Kidding aside, bodies do take center stage in Love Me Again. Migo (Piolo Pascual) is the brusque but sensitive cowboy whose tight cutoff shirts show off every ripple of his wrangler’s physique. Arah (Angel Locsin), on the other hand, is the shapely laborer extraordinaire who capitalizes on her physical capabilities, whether as a pineapple plantation worker in Mindanao, or as a ranch hand in Australia.
The spectacle of Arah and Migo’s bodies underscores the dual role of the body in an imperialist system: an economic workhorse, a font of libidinal desires. Arah and Migo’s romance symbolizes the interrelationship between the libidinal and the economic. More than just framing the (onscreen) couple in a dramatic tale of love overcoming odds, Love Me Again situates them in what Neferti Tadiar calls “sexual economies.”
Arah, as the migrant worker, is the manifestation of the Philippines’ labor export policy. She is the quintessential Filipina worker: intelligent but with insufficient access to education, hardworking, loyal, and willing to sacrifice personal happiness for the welfare of her family. Arah’s trajectory from agricultural laborer to migrant laborer shows the government’s neoliberal thrust of promoting Filipino labor as a cheap commodity. People, particularly Filipinas, are no more than export-quality bodies supplied to foreign markets. This trade, basically modern-day slavery, is so widespread and lucrative that the Filipino economy is practically kept afloat by overseas workers’ remittances.
Migo, on the other hand, is not really Migo; more than anything else he is Piolo, the hunk of the moment, the lust-worthy body that commands public desire. Love Me Again suffers precisely because Quintos directs Piolo with this frame of mind. Despite Piolo’s acting capabilities, his portrayal of Migo is so stale, as if the director was unwilling to make him look ugly or unflattering, so overly protective of Piolo’s current sex-symbol status that Migo comes off as unrealistic, too handsome, too beautiful to be believable. He is simply the hunk on the billboard pandering to a rugged worker fetish. If Arah’s migrant struggle was the narrative selling point, Piolo was the marketing tool. Angel provided the meat of the story, Piolo provided the meat.
This libidinal-economic division of labor is most evident in a montage where the tribulations of Arah and Migo are paralleled. On the one hand, we see Arah toiling so hard, taking on all kinds of menial jobs from cooking in the sand to lassoing cattle, even hacking down termites’ nests in order to protect the ranch’s fences. When we see her remit money back to her family, it is clear that the money is hard-earned, her absence back home almost palpable.
On the other hand (perhaps for the sake of narrative) we see Migo’s bleak story, his farm beset by sickness and financial ruin. Unlike the almost documentary approach to Arah, Migo’s half of the montage is filled with beauty shots, each frame emphasizing his attractive facial features (close-ups of him looking troubled or pensive) and fleshy physique (wide shots of Piolo horseback riding in tight wifebeaters, and most blatantly, pondering on his misfortunes in the middle of the night—topless).
Love Me Again plays up the Piolo factor so much that its main love scene is practically a series of close ups of Piolo’s abs and biceps. (Really, I’m not kidding. When I watched this in the theater, the whole audience let out a collective gasp at the sight of Piolo’s abs.) Perhaps it is no coincidence that the film is about cowboys. After all, the lexicon of male objectification borrows much from cattle terminology. Hot males are described in the same way one would speak of livestock—hunk, meat, sizzling, boner, pork, beefcake etc—as if men, in this case cowboys, were no different from the steer they round up.
In a capitalist system, especially in the Philippine context where neoliberal policies are king, where human labor is fetishized and commodified for economic output or sexual desire, how are we supposed to love? This system, after all, not unlike the slave trade of the Industrial Revolution era, breaks apart families, friendships, and couples like Migo and Arah. When everything, including humans and relationships, is assigned a corresponding exchange value, one is forced to look at love as a business investment, like Arah’s relationship to her Australian employer.
Love is simply not feasible, yet somehow, by virtue of a glaring contrivance, Love Me Again ends happily. While this is easily interpreted as the filmmakers’ weakness and/or compromise (and it most likely is), perhaps the unreal-ness is the point. The obviously forced ending makes its impossibility more glaring. One leaves the cinema feeling cheated, dissatisfied, duped. And why not? When once comes face to face with the inhumanity of capitalism and how it commodifies people, how can any decent human being feel otherwise? #
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Full length films. Tags: angel locsin, australia, bukidnon, cowboy, love me again, love me again (land down under), mindanao, piolo pascual, ranch, romance, rory quintos, star cinema.