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By Heinrich Domingo

While Philippine films have this unfounded addiction on weddings (see Straight to the Heart), we limit the discussion of death on horror stories. Buhay Habangbuhay offered an alternative depiction of death and the afterlife and suggested that they are capable of broadening the discussion of love, relationship, and life. Despite disappointing visual effects, this film appeals to the crowd for being new and refreshing. It is effective in offering a breath of fresh air in a genre that offers only two possibilities – horrific or comedic.

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One morning, a dutiful housewife (played by Iza Calzado) discovered herself dead after a shocking accident. She refused to leave the mortal world and tirelessly waited for her husband to die so they can eternally rest together. The long wait made her witness to the entry of new people in her husband’s life – his new wife (Meryll Soriano) and their son (Nhikzy Calma). She then discovers that there is so much in afterlife than seeking to be with her husband again. She can explore the world and enjoy it one more time.

The film’s story is consistent in its purpose of rebranding a familiar theme. It remained true to its objective of showing that ghosts and spirits are more than scary characters. They can actually be metaphors to discuss the vague concepts of searching happiness, finding love, and looking for purpose in (after)life.

Buhay Habangbuhay’s plot is easy to follow. It can at times be dragging but it is sure on how it wants its story to end. This might come from the film’s deliberate move to minimize spoken lines. Most of the time, characters are asked to act rather than speak about what they feel. Sequences are made long in an attempt to make sure that the audience understands what happens on the screen.

It is ironic though that a film largely depending on visual-storytelling got a lot of problems on its visual effects. Depiction of floating ghosts and wandering spirits were poorly done. Often times, the visual statements bothers the viewing crowd. For a movie that came from a graphic novel, Buhay Habangbuhay’s images on screen can sometimes be disappointing.

The movie’s inadequacies were supplemented by superb performances of its main cast. Iza Calzado brilliantly depicted a complex role. She created an image of a graceful beautiful ghost that will remain in our memories for a long time. Her performance can land her the best actress award in the festival. With her is Meryll Soriano who, despite a minute role, gave an outstanding depiction of a widower. Jake Macapagal and Nhikzy Calma could have provided better acting, but their mediocre performances became just right for the movie.

This film is for movie junkies who revel in the not so obvious. It is for those who appreciate a story that uses dead people to discuss life and living. Although the storyline is filled with comic quips, the audience will be gifted with philosophical lessons on finding your place in a vast world.

3.5 stars

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