Forever Loved


Reviewed by: David Graham

Forever Loved
"Forever Loved is at its best when it avoids embellishment."

A valiant but unwieldy document of the six million-and-growing migrant Filipinos of the world, Forever Loved takes an unflinching approach to their stories, punctuated by the arty fictitious search for a young man's missing wife. Writer/director Christopher Gozum deserves admiration (as do any viewers who stick with him for his punishing three-hour-plus duration) for shining a confrontational but sensitive spotlight on these disenfranchised hopefuls, but his black-and-white, imagery-starved style can make their testimonials seem like a slog.

While individual stories are riveting and the sincerity of the subjects is painfully clear, the overall effect is counter-productively deadening, while the vague attempt to add structure to the piece through a semi-mystical narrative distracts from and undermines the central concerns.

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Four thousand Filipinos are fleeing their country every day with hopes of a better life - legal or otherwise - in the world at large. Many send all the money they make back to their families at home, sometimes being exploited by the very people for whom they've sacrificed everything they know. The rights of these workers are being denied and their trust abused at nearly every turn, leading to some women being co-erced into borderline prostitution while some men are left fighting for their freedom and even their very lives due to the lack of respect they receive politically and in the workplace. Through this landscape of the unheard, a man wanders in hope of being reunited with the wife who left their homeland for the promise of something better, only to disappear into the ether, just another statistic.

The linking story featuring the lovesick actor outlines the possible fates of Phillipine women who leave their country: we hear of the heartbreaking variety of potential disasters awaiting them, from car crashes to rape and unwanted pregnancy, as the young man soberly braves the tattoo needle, emblazoning his back with the defiant but perhaps naive symbol of a dragon. We then see some of the interviewed subjects giving first-hand accounts of these issues: each person's story seems more shocking than the last, not least for the fact that much of the time - like the Nigerians in Attractive Illusion - they are suffering at the hands of their own people.

We meet a woman who used to teach literature at college but has been short-changed by a deceitful agency back home, who've more or less sold her into domestic and sexual slavery. The dry, visually barren document of these people's plight seems appropriate, but it also sits uneasily with the occasional conflicting reports of supposed 'facts', such as 99 out of 100 of these rape accusations proving false. A haunting montage of scrapyard car wrecks follows, chassis twisted together in an orgy of shattered dreams, as the notion that these women are accountable for their own fate is uncomfortably established.

As we meet a man who's been horrifically disfigured due to poor working conditions and another who spent five years in prison as the fall guy for a murder he had no part in, a picture is built up of impossible cruelty, where these people are victimised at every turn with little hope of redeeming themselves. Gozum highlights how strong these hardships have made them - their candor and lack of bitterness is inspiring - and occasionally the kindness of strangers and authorities shines through, but for the most part hypocrisy and exploitation seem to be around every corner. Some of the interviewees cry uncontrollably as they recount their woes, making their 10-minute-plus segments a real challenge to endure, especially without any other visual stimulus in many cases.

However, about 90 minutes in the director takes an ill-advised diversion into soul-searching romantic poetry, as his protagonist gets in tow with a mysterious woman of the dunes. Their sensuous and religious journey distracts the viewer from the impending monotony of the film's central format, but it also feels like an unnecessary and pretentious indulgence that dilutes the overall impact. Like legendarily demanding Holocaust survivor account Shoah, Forever Loved is at its best when it avoids embellishment, but also like that film, its fearless focus and lack of traditional narrative will be off-putting for most viewers, despite its airy-fairy asides.

As a personal purging of the Phillipines' lost souls, Gozum's film is a worthwhile experience and won't go unnoticed, but as a cinematic proposition it's harder to recommend. If your interest has been piqued by other Filipino films such as Of Skies And Earth or the more abstract Mondomanila, this will deepen your understanding of these hugely empathetic people no end. Arguably though, you could dip in and out of the film at random and walk away with no less of a sense of what it's trying to say, making the overall picture difficult and not always rewarding viewing.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2012
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An examination of the stories of Filipino migrants around the world, and one man's journey to find his missing emigrant wife.

Director: Christopher Gozum

Writer: Christopher Gozum

Starring: Louie Rojas, Jo Paredes, Dindo Salinas, Sharon Manibpel, Joselito Alejo, Joseph Peruda, Inday Pongan Malik, Rolando Blanco, Christopher Carvajal, Joseph Henry Espiritu

Year: 2011

Runtime: 195 minutes

Country: Philippines


EIFF 2012

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