About Us But Not About Us


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

About Us But Not About Us
"A smart little thriller which asks some uncomfortable questions."

In a quiet restaurant in the afternoon, 40-year-old gay English teacher Eric (Romnick Sarmenta) meets fresh-faced 22-year-old student Lance (Elijah Canlas) and treats him to steak. The two sit at a table in the window. They’re both aware that someone might see them there, but, well, people are already talking, It’s no-one’s business. Despite the rumours, nothing sexual has happened between them. Eric has simply taken it upon himself to mentor the youth. He has no ulterior motives – or at least that’s what he seems to believe.

The reality of this situation is much more complicated than it looks, and neither man is quite what he seems to be. Their relative power, and audience sympathy, shifts back and forth over the course of a film which may be primarily conversational but will have no difficulty holding your attention. Director Jun Lana uses flashbacks to show us a previous meeting in the same restaurant between Eric and his common law husband, Marcus, who has since died by suicide. It’s never any secret that the two men fought over Eric’s attachment to his student, which Marcus felt risked crossing a line, but more secrets will be revealed over the course of a very precise 90 minutes which, due to Covid protocols, is as much time as any one table of customers at the restaurant is allowed.

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Delivered with wonderful economy, the film even makes double use of its leads, both of whom play Marcus in different flashback scenes, bringing out different aspects of this elusive third player. A celebrated novelist, Marcus is perceived by both other characters through the frame of his work – as, ironically, Lance strives to be, enabling his own objectification in the process. The different expectations of privacy and public presence between generations skew the men’s ability to understand one another, as very different value systems gradually become apparent. Sometimes feelings are more important than the truth, says Lance, which sums up the difficulty in Eric and Marcus’ relationship but also Lance’s tendency to detach himself from reality, to project a public self whilst remaining isolated behind it.

Is this way of living a product of abuse? He was beaten, in the past, by his stepfather, allowing Eric to step in and help him and make himself feel like a saviour even as he makes some extremely unwise choices. Has his inability to save Marcus made him dependent on the belief that he’s saving his student? He and Lance see aspects of the recent past in very different ways. He suggests that most memories are false or lies we invent to make ourselves feel better. There are different types of lie here, material and emotional, and it’s not always clear which is most dangerous.

A smart little thriller which asks some uncomfortable questions, framed by the difficulties of staying safe as a gay man in a sometimes hostile society, About Us But Not About Us really makes the most of the talent it has available and, as a result, punches well above its weight. It screened as part of the 2023 Queer East film festival in London, and it’s well worth seeking out.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2023
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About Us But Not About Us packshot
Two men and a mysterious manuscript.

Director: Jun Robles Lana

Writer: Jun Robles Lana

Starring: Romnick Sarmenta, Elijah Canlas

Year: 2022

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Philippines

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