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by Heinrich Domingo

For so long, many have attempted to present the exuding beauty of the Cordillera Mountains. There have been films which captured the heart of Igorot culture but none has succeeded to showcase the place’s visual magnificence more than Above the Clouds. It was breathtaking. Beyond words. The film’s cinematography is a masterpiece. But the pretty images alone cannot fill in the absence of a good storyline. Unimpressive acting, awkward script, and shallow storyline dug deep a void that cannot be undone by a visual feast.

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The story begins with the Typhoon Ondoy tragedy. Lives are lost and homes destroyed. Andy’s (Ruru Madrid) parents were among the many victims. In order to cope with self-blaming and absence of guardians, Andy was taken home by his grandfather (Pepe Smith) who resides in Baguio City. As they live in the same old dingy house, they are confronted with issues of the past. It is a narrative that captures the seldom discussed relationship between grandfather and grandchild. To cap it all, the director decides to make them mountain hike as they journey towards seeking resolution of their woes.

Both in high altitude shots and in poorly-lit takes, Above the Clouds captured the essence of visual artistry. For its director of photography, camera roll must overcome physical barriers. With the film’s limited budget, this accomplishment is magnified.

Outside the visual treat, the movie seemed to be lost in the jungle of uncertainties. One cannot find a depth on the images shown. And in the constant search for meaning, more faults and shortcomings are revealed. The most prominent of them is Smith’s acting fiasco. His delivery of lines felt off most of the time. He cannot portray the complexity of an old man searching for life’s happiness. In contrast, Madrid’s mediocre performance cannot go as far as redeeming the inadequacy of other actors.

Another is the lame script that often leaves the audience uncomfortable. Metaphors were used in scenes but usually raise eyebrows from the crowd. Underneath the conversation between the two main characters, one can find empty rhetoric. No wisdom. No depth.

In the pile of seemingly bad elements, the saving factor of storyline did not come. The film was not able to build the essence of grandfather – grandchild relationship. At the end of the plot, audience continues to look for the film’s grand narrative.

It is no easy feat to shoot meters above the mountains or to record scenes devoid of proper lighting. Above the Clouds will always be remembered as a movie that gave justice to Cordillera’s beauty. But its failure to support great cinematography marks deeper in the memory of viewers more than its positive elements. Pepe Diokno might have debuted with a powerful film Engkwentro (Clash) in 2009 but with this recent piece, he might need to prove a lot.

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