The quietly elegant Walang Hanggang Paalam spent the year floating in limbo with an X-rating from the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). In the version that's finally allowed in theaters, we can vaguely make out the shadows behind the ban: The 16-year old girl (Lovi Poe) is too young to be running away with her boyfriend (Joem Bascon), whose sole mission is to claim her virginity, then cavort with a dying Japanese gentleman (Jacky Woo). They're all the while trailed by a private investigator (Jake Roxas) in a cruel gay relationship (with Rico Barrera). Oh, there's also incest, and in the X'ed original, an ejaculation scene, supposedly. Despite the elegiac mood, a potent sensuality curdles, and boo to the MTRCB for failing to see that this is what makes it a worthy piece of cinema.
At its best, Paalam plays like a tone poem, especially when intercutting between its lonesome characters -- such as in the opening where everyone shaves or clips hairs from their faces or bodies, then later, in their respective prison-like hotel rooms in the chilly mountains of Baguio. In short, the movie works best when the humans must be no more than symbolic pretty elements in deliberately composed tableaus. Filmmakers Paolo Villaluna and Ellen Ramos (Selda, Ilusyon) have finally found a subject that matches their fetishistic photography of still objects: Existentially troubled individuals who are no more alive or dead than the fog or the sunlight through the glass.
When they must interact, however, the movie thuds. It becomes clear as we watch that the characters possess only one dimension each. I'm convinced Jake Roxas was given a bad boyfriend just so he can spend the entire movie moping. And so with Jacky Woo and cancer. Joem Bascon, in case we miss that he's supposed to be horny, keeps thrusting his hips and pushing his girlfriend to do it. It's hard to see what else is in him that made him her prince. Lovi Poe, who's meant to connect and seduce and break free, only has layers of girlishness. It's telling that her boat ride with the older man is a bonding moment drowned out in music and impressionistic close-ups. Where there should have been drama, there's poses. I'd hate to think they're mere zombies awaiting their fates to arrive with the twist ending, but that's what they are.