Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Exercises of Commencement (Let the Love Begin)

Exercises of Commencement

by Patrick D. Flores

While the restoration of conflicted love to its harmonious ideal is de rigueur in the genre of romance in popular cinema, all is not lost in terms of the potential of an alternative mode of restoring it. For it is not solely the restoration that must inform the critique of film, but the restorative gesture; and that romance is not necessarily the fulcrum on which the freight of affection strives for poise: the romantic possibility in the face of lovelessness, indeed the initiation into love amid the despair nurtured by social inequity, might be the proper axis. We appreciate Let the Love Begin to the degree that it resists the temptation merely to repeat the script of restoration, so that it could work through (but not inevitably work out) the romantic process. It is in the latter that we begin to grasp the necessity of the love that is almost already reduced to a commodity or fetish in the alienating habits of the media. It is the production of this love, with the impediments of both station and sensibility, that renders everything heartfelt and moves us to sigh because it relieves.

The plot is from a distance barren. But inasmuch as the screenplay is attentive to the details of emergence, the landscape flourishes in the course of the viewing experience. The problem revolves around a poor young man who works as a janitor in a school where he studies at night. The predicament is not poverty in its abstract sense, but the material conditions bred by this dispossession, a vital aspect of which is the intimate longing to love, to release those dams of feeling, that is held at bay. In other words, this earnest character cannot afford to culture what is made to appear a natural disposition because the said conditions militate against it, or at least restrain its indulgence. That said, the film plods on still because it is interested in the exercise of commencement: of how the hero could let the love begin. This pursuit is consequently deferred; it is, in fact, such deferral that frustrates certain expectations for the romantic resolution to return to normalcy (and normativity) and thus transforms facile enamoration into an exasperation of sorts: the film shifts its gears unhurriedly, no rush to completion here, as if love is painfully protracted, defended against the delusion of unconditional devotion. It is deferral that fulfills the promise of cinema as both annunciation and anticipation.

Implicated in this suspension are the people around the protagonist: the beloved, a wealthy scion whose father wants her to be in business and to forsake all aspirations to be an artist; confidantes who work in a fast-food chain and the pedicab circuit; a grandmother who serves as singular parent who solicits prayers from the forlorn faithful of the church to keep body and soul together; and a rival suitor who masquerades as the damsel’s savior. Integral to the narrative’s humanist inclination is the ethic of the young man, who is pictured as a diligent, persevering, talented, compassionate, generous, and sensitive male who achieves success through sheer determination. But this success is verisimilarly delayed, in step with his patient, sentimental romance: he continues to sweep floors after college while his peers have become cloying careerists. In the end, the working class knight receives a scholarship from a well-known university in the United States, courtesy of a global firm, a dream that, in the vein of pervading extensions, is likewise put off again – interestingly, in the era of late capitalism and in the full efflorescence of belated desire.

All told, in spite and because of the routines of genre, the screenplay of Let the Love Begin merits discussion. It carves out a different space for class contradictions to reveal much-vaunted strife and at the same time to glimpse the prospects of internal critique. For it is not outside love that these antagonisms fester, but within its sanctum. There is a scene in the film that captures this intricate perturbation, and thus captivates. Seated inside a car, the hero is confronted by the origin of his adoration, who preens before the window that reflects in mirror-effect her image, oblivious to his presence. He is unsettled because he fears of being seen by someone who is actually at the end of his gaze. This is an uncanny moment in which misrecognition finds its screen: the agents of romance become at once object and subject that are inhibited from consummating their encounter, estranged partly by the vanities of their sight and the illusions of a deceptive glass. One sees herself on a surface that conceals the man who surveils and espies her beholding herself while staring at him. The other gains bliss by coming face to face with his intractable fantasy but is concomitantly agitated by his disingenuous technique of supervision and the peril of being found out. This only reminds us that love is a plane that can never be transparent, mediated as it is by the asymmetries of life and the compromises that a project like Let the Love Begin can conjure only in dilatory disguise.

(Appeared in Young Critics Circle Film Desk’s Sine-Sipat: Recasting Roles and Images-Stars, Awards and Criticism for 2005, March 2006)

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