How magical is it that a great movie always manages to get me out of a writing hiatus? Irene Villamor’s Ulan is my favorite of the year so far, and here’s why.
Like raindrops slowly falling from the sky, Ulan starts at a slow and steady pace, one page at a time, like your grandmother reading you a bedtime story, and keeps at its same slowness well until the end of the film. Picturesque, dreamy, and full of otherworldly elements that feeds your imagination, the movie, to me, felt like a children’s storybook coming to life. And as I always say about the movies I write about, it is the seamless coming together of elements that leaves me in awe.
For one, Ulan’s narrative is accompanied by a pitch-perfect soundtrack, which to me, seems like a lullaby, playing softly in my ears, singing me to sleep. Janine Tenoso’s version of Ulan is a dream. I’d listen to the entire fourteen minutes of the Ulan OST on repeat!
And may I point out that I’m an avid hater of rain? I hate how it creates little puddles on the roads, making commuting a hassle; I hate how it is threatening, makes you worry about your laundry; I hate the thought of floods and traffic; I hate the gloominess it brings, from the dark skies to my mood. I’d prefer gloriously scorching, hot, sunny days anytime, thank you very much—all I need is sunscreen and a pamaypay.
And yet, throughout the film, which was dimly-lit ninety percent of the times, Ulan managed to bring me fleeting moments of warmth, joy, and playfulness—yes, amid the pouring rain.
Through the rains, super typhoons, and floods, we are made to wade through the roller coaster story of Maya, the 'kulang sa libog' writer who makes a lot of life decisions based on her strong superstitious beliefs, which we can all blame on the kwentos of her lola who raised her.
She goes through heartbreaks and floods of tears, a whirlwind romance with a so-called ‘prinsipe’, and a love that came unannounced—just like the unexpected like rain showers.
And while I've never subscribed to the JaDine fandom, I've come to admire Nadine Lustre in this film, and how she brings to life Maya. I also appreciate how the partnership with Carlo Aquino feels natural, and, despite the hype that went around Nadine's being paired with a new leading man, the new tandem wasn't at all the point of the film. There weren’t any annoying hugot lines, either, and the fantastical elements woven into the story weren’t awkward—everything simply felt so natural, flowing as smoothly as it did.
What I loved most are the long silences, the scenes that felt like a fairy tale, and in the midst of it all you could almost ‘hear’ the whispers of the film, and what it’s trying to tell us between the lines.
My late film professor would always tell us, “show, don’t tell” and since then, I’ve always noticed the quiet emotion in the imperceptible gestures, the facial expressions, the still and eerie surroundings, the non-action. And Ulan had a lot of that.
I’d like to think a many of us girls can relate to Maya, growing up in quite the same environment as hers, believing in the extravagant truths told to us as children and being conditioned to live according to superstitious beliefs—only to grow up and find out it isn’t all what it seemed to be. And yet, as Maya grows up only for her childhood projections of the future to be shattered, the film ends her journey on quite a pleasant note, with a closure, a reconciliation with the past, a peace-making.
If Ulan is a Filipino fairy tale, I can assure you it’s one that comes with a realistic, happy ending.
Photos via Ulan (2019) on IMDB.