Nostalgia and Regional Landscapes in Petersen Vargas’ Lisyun Qng Geografia

Petersen Vargas’ short film Lisyun Qng Geografia (Geography Lessons, 2014) highlights two interconnecting aspects often featured in cinema – memory and landscape. Unfolding with a non-linear plot, Lisyun Qng Geografia is a poignant coming-of-age tale focusing on two best friends in high school, Tib and Tric, who had a falling out because of the constraints imposed to them by the patriarchal society.

The film starts with an older Tib looking at his passport and packing up his things – an indication that he might be moving out of the country to seek greener pastures abroad. He finds a collage that outlines a map of his Pampanga hometown, given by his former best friend Tric during their senior year in high school. This triggers Tib’s memory about Tric, and the former is propelled to go back to the old neighborhood he grew up in to find closure with his old friend.

The narrative of Lisyun works like memory, since the scenes of the film weave interrelated yet non-chronological events in the lives of the two protagonists, from the time that they were still close with each other, up to the time that they were no longer friends. These scenes are combined with random photographs of the two characters, imitating the effect of the collage Tric did for Tib. This technique also mimics how memory works – people randomly remember moments in their lives, and no matter how seemingly unrelated, these memories bring forth nostalgia. In connection to this, the nostalgic reminiscence does not only happen within Tib, but possibly to the audience as well. The film takes the viewers back to the early 2000s, when compact CD players and scrapbooks were still in. It was a time when the chaos of social media was still non-existent, and when friendships were less superficial than they are now. The film portrays the honesty and realness of the two characters’ bond compared to the ones built in the era of social media, all of which just appears like a remote past.

Another important factor highlighted in the film is the use of landscapes. Lisyun shows the changes that transpired in the Pampanga landscape over time. Serene greeneries are now replaced by bus stations. The cinema where the two protagonists watched a film after class is now demolished. As the audience follows Tib back to his hometown, he and the audience realize that while some memories remain connected with his old neighborhood, there have already been numerous changes that also make him feel alienated. Here, it is shown that landscapes are often connected with memory, as people attach meaning to places depending on the moments that happened while they were on those landscapes. Lisyun shows this relationship between landscapes and memory and relates it to Tib and Tric’s character development. Tib cannot help but be reminded of the friendship he had with Tric upon seeing high school boys in uniforms with their bikes, or while traversing the path that they used to ride a bike together. While the Pampanga landscape has already changed, there are still innate characteristics of the town that makes him yearn a past he rejected once, and hopes to regain what he has lost.

In addition, using the coming-of-age tale in narrating the stories of the protagonists plays an important part in showing how the characters’ perspectives changed. Adolescence has always been a time for individuals to know themselves more and establish their own worldviews. In the film, the rejection of Tric’s honest friendship and ambiguous attraction towards Tib changed them both. Living in a conventional patriarchal society (the characters were enrolled in an all-boys school) that believes in upholding a strong but oftentimes derogatory macho culture, Tib grows apart from Tric because the former is afraid of what may be said about his own masculinity. This situation is even aggravated by the fact that the memorabilia Tric created for Tib – a collage designed with their photographs and drawings of the places they once hung out in Pampanga – was posted on their classroom door and ridiculed as an effeminate action. This causes Tric to feel humiliated and turn his back away from his true sexual identity. Here, the school becomes a microcosm of a patriarchal society which imposes a myopic understanding of sexuality, and in the context of this film, of masculinity. Being masculine is often only limited to possessing conventional characteristics such as being a smooth casanova or an athletic individual. This is a debilitating and narrow-minded profile that undermines the mild-mannered Tric, who is still a teenager trying to explore his sexual identity.

The collage that Tric created becomes a metaphor of the choices that the protagonists take in their lives. Tib traces his steps back to their old high school and seeks to find closure with his old friend. However, as he goes to the same spot where he and Tric loitered around during their carefree high school days, Tib realizes that his youthful insensitivity towards Tric’s feelings and sexuality changes them both. When the two coincidentally meet, Tric is no longer the mild-mannered young man he was, but appears indifferent and cold, albeit the fact that he recognized Tib’s presence. Tib realizes this and stifles a tear, and his face expresses evident regret for a true friendship he had lost. Tric’s choice to live as a straight man shows that the rejection has hurt him, causing him to forget who he really is.

Petersen Vargas’ film shows the audience the numerous possibilities Philippine regional films can offer because they are open to various Filipino voices; that mainstream and Manila-centric cinema can be limited because of its stereotypical or caricatured depictions of sexualities. Lisyun Qng Geografia further challenges us to create cinematic regional landscapes that discuss a more fluid and open dialogue on cultures and sexualities needed in the diverse 21st century society.

– Anne Mallari

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