Short Film Review: Here, Here (2019)

“Where are your wounds?”
“Here, here…”

How does one reconcile change and continuity in both their social and historical lives? Blurring the lines between these distinctions, Joanne Cesario’s Here, Here (2019) traces this complex question through an immersive and contemplative cinematic experience.

Selected for the 2020 Locarno Film Festival and awarded as the Grant Recipient of the QCinema International Film Festival 2019, Here, Here sees Koi, a young fresh graduate, returning back home to a coastal town in the Philippines. His mother, Tonet, prepares herself and their home as they await the return of Koi’s father. However, both Koi and Tonet do not know if their father will even come: an accident has occurred in the nearby extraction tunnel which he works at.

While the plot is straightforward, the film’s narrative construction is profound: the film uses subjective visuals and tactful sound design to slowly envelop the viewer, leading them into the psyche of Koi. Every scene possesses an atmospheric sense of poignancy, as though the town’s state of decay can be felt across both space and time in the film. As the film progresses, the weight of Koi’s fears—of losing both his father and his hearing—increases in intensity, accentuating the overall sense of latent dread that permeates the film.

Here, Here also examines questions of identity in relation to one’s own past and social environment. In a crucial scene, Koi and his friend reflect on their shared pasts and histories together through scars—with each scar reflecting a major life event. The emotional weight of the film is captured in this significant scene: the memories they share range from recollections of childhood nostalgia, to past abuse and trauma. The shift in tone from one memory's recollection to another is swift and abrupt—much like how the contemplation of memory in real life often unfolds. Extreme zoom-ins on the scars, supplemented with voiceovers that trace the significance of each scar, showcase the historical and personal weight that each of the scars carry.

It was fascinating to note that Here, Here is described as “part fiction, part experiment” and that the film is a “loose visual study on landscape and terrains, both natural and beyond”. Such a description brings new perspectives into the subject of the film: more than just observing Koi’s own personal worries and anxieties, we also witness how the urban decay of the town affects not just the economic aspects of the townspeople but their collective social identity as well. The film’s experimental approach and thematic concerns also lend perspective and pose questions about the nature of identity—to what extent are we defined by our past traumas? In what way are these past anxieties affected by the structural anxieties caused by rapid urbanising changes in the social environment? Ultimately, the film resists any sort of contrived dialectical format to arrive at any such straightforward answer. Instead, the depth and weight of such questions are left to the viewers to be contemplated upon.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Here, Here possesses a rare narrative allure: the film does not pose an outright fundamental plot premise or question that is expected to be resolved by the narrative’s end. Instead, the short film plays with narrative ambiguity throughout its eighteen minutes—which, despite its short length, feels longer than it actually is. Thus, Here, Here captures the imagination of viewers in a rather unique manner: the film makes one contemplate on the powerful themes of the narrative rather than the narrative per se. What follows is an accomplishment of a short film—complete with rich symbolism and thoughtful thematic concerns. Here, Here is small in scale but vast in emotional weight.

Written by Bryson Ng
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