The anxiety evoked by JP Habak in Here and There (Ditto in Doon) is not only about the will of two strangers, but also about the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end.

– Star JC Santos alongside Janine Gutierrez in JP Habac’s Ditto in Doon (2021).

To say that JP Habaka Ditto’s Doon (Here and There) is a love story is a big disappointment. To call you that is an understatement, because it is more than romantic. The premise of the film is that two strangers come online with a lot of bad luck. One carries the anger with him, exclaiming that profiting from the pandemic – putting in hours when stuck in the office, working as a team in a graveyard – is a selfish act, while the other, each feeling the effects of the pandemic in a different way, is deeply affected by the alienation of his own family. We understand that they can be the potential heroes of a love story. We also quickly find out that COVID-19 definitely has a different effect on each of us.

We know from Habak’s first film, I’m Drunk, I Love You (2017), that his films are set in familiar locations, yet they take a different path once his characters step outside the formulaic norm. Len Jeanine Gutierrez as Carson is an outspoken, strong-willed creature raised by a single mother who happens to be a nurse (played by her real-life mother, actress Lotlo de Leon). He makes the rounds on the net with quick jokes aimed at those who turn a blind eye to the ongoing pandemic. The time and situation she and her friends Victor Anastasio and Yesh Bersa played could never be that accurate, because at the time of writing, the pandemic in the country had just reached its peak. We see this happening everywhere and to everyone. The situation is so bleak these days, but insensitivity is just as widespread.

Unlike Deo in IDILY, Caloy of Cabs (played by JC Santos) is not a mysterious confused teenager who is worried about growing up. Caloy is blocked by the fear of taking on a mature and responsible role for his family. He is originally from Cebu and lives alone in the metro. He begins to respond to Len’s seemingly one-sided view of the pandemic. They then met in the most pandemic-friendly way possible: via Zoom, during an online binge with two mutual friends. It’s almost strange to imagine anyone conjuring up a love story in these dark and troubling times, but somehow Ms. Gutierrez manages to convey their feelings of innocence and anger with her subtle rather than dark approach to the characters. Sir, I’m sorry. Santos, who has a theater degree and is an accomplished freelance actor, exudes a boyish, neighborly vibe. Someone who lets us know that he too sees a purpose in all of this, and who may evoke a very different mood next time. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fun encounter when they start a friendship.

The script, created by Alexa Gonzalez and Christine Barrameda (co-author of Sakaling Maging Tayo), offers us not only things we acquired during the pandemic (plants, zoom or video calls, face masks, free alcohol – to drink and for bacteria, curfews, courier services, Dalgona coffee, intricate meal preparation via YouTube tutorials), but also the concept of incarceration. This seems obvious because, unlike films like the aptly named Locked Down, which use zooms to capture other images or characters, this film turns that distance into a technique where each character is physically present in the space. The viewer has to imagine that this is a virtual encounter, but the emotions behind the screen are clear, and somehow easy to convey.

The closed shot also provides additional staging, using a play of light to show that although all the characters are performing in the same room, the differences in lighting remind us that they are all quarantined in different places. It also gives each character a bit of personality: Lena’s light is strong, yellow, but not too bright. Stubborn and seemingly from a place of privilege. Although the light that surrounds Kaloy as he enters the stage is a bit dull and bluish, it is a testament to the cohesiveness and serviceability of the character that Mr. Santos manages to portray. He’s always supportive, practical and reliable in the face of Len’s strong personality, but ultimately he’s never in the same room with her as she reaches out and lands her hand in space, but is emotionally quite distant. It is a carefully crafted concept that combines two characters with opposing ideas. It may remind you of how people interact online, strangers fight disease with words, but the only victory here is Corona [virus].

Ditto in Doon is a film about the pandemic that was shot over several years: Arguments about the government’s incompetence in managing quarantines, all kinds of remote mass testing, and individual detentions that don’t work. Unlike Locked Down (2021), where neither Civitel Ejiofor nor Anne Hathaway can save the sophisticated stunt, there are no stunts here or there. When Len asks Kaloy to calm down, they all have the same look we knew from the beginning. There is no such thing [as certainty these days]. More than the will, we are not concerned here with the allure of what they can share, but with the implications of how our lives will change forever if we all experience it.

Assuming Ditto in Doon is a movie about finding love in the COWID-19 era, it offers more. Unlike other pandemic films, this one exudes fear, the way we feel it every day these days, the way it affects us, and the way there is no way out, no way but to face the questionable. I hope we stay close until we get the closure we all so desperately deserve.

 

Ditto in Doon can be streamed at Upstream.ph or via Cinema76fs At Home.

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