Film Review: Whether the Weather Is Fine | Kun Maupay Man It Panahon (2021)

There is something insidious about what trauma does to you from the inside out. Unlike the tidal wave of acute physical harm—the pain, the blood, the immediacy—that presses you into a primal mode for survival, sink or swim, fight or flight, trauma is a slow burn that you never quite see coming. It drips like a pipe that has sprung a leak along a precarious seam in the family home, a slow seep that eats away at the bottom of the wall, out of sight, but present and niggling. You hear it late at night in bed, the steady drops following the beat of a consummate liar’s heart, and wonder what it all means—and by the time you figured that something is real wrong with your pipes, your floor is ruined and your cellar is a deep, wet, void. You can call the plumber but even when they are done, there is already something deeply, fundamentally, changed with your house. As clean as you get, the mould, for one, will never leave.

Thickening the atmosphere with its viscous, restless resignation, trauma permeates the air and saturates the earth in Whether the Weather Is Fine, the debut feature of Filipino filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad, which follows the hapless misadventures of Miguel (Daniel Padilla), his Hobbesian girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol), and his helicopter mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio), as they meander along the journey to leave their typhoon-devastated town via an ill-verified boat to Manila. Rooted in the wake of 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan which ravaged the Philippines, and most particularly the city of Tacloban, located on the north eastern tip of the island of Leyte, the film follows in a lineage of works that explored the impact of the typhoon and the struggles of the survivors in their efforts to rebuild which includes titles such as Lav Diaz’s 2014 documentary Storm Children, Book One and Brillante Mendoza’s 2015 drama Taklub.

Over an almost-hour-long cold open before the ornately typeset title card finally rolls, we are introduced to our emotional tethers via a series of vignettes. There is Miguel, who we first see splayed on ruined furniture amidst scattered scavengers and corpses, as he wanders and pauses in turn with a dazed, glazed gaze; there is practical chic Andrea, who establishes her brand of survivalist bluntness first with a casual flyswatter to a dreaming Miguel’s nascent crotch then with a pistol as she robs a butcher; and then there is needy Norma, whose reaction to her son and his companion’s discovery crescendos with an indignant inquiry of whether he had looked for his girlfriend first before his mother and who slowly unravels as she relentlessly searches for a trace of her old lover in a sea of faces. With the delicate balance of a previously mundane existence all but out of the way, it is clear that all three are broken in their own ways, fault-lines pre-inscribed by the harshness of life. As hope runs short like ration, a decision is reached: divide and conquer; Miguel and Andrea will register for the seats, and Norma will get the goods to sustain them through the trip. What follows next is a series of run-ins, encounters, confrontations, engagements, and ambushes that occur on a mix of surreal, spiritual, non-sequitur terms which conclude with neither seats nor goods were secured, and the trio wanly split up to their individual fates.

While the physical experience of a disaster is more-or-less congruent in a geographically bound community, the ways through which trauma manifests varies with each individual. The reticence of Miguel diverges from the violence of Andrea and the obsession of Norma, and each woman is in turn complicated by their reliance on Miguel’s soft pliability that tempers the rawness of their emotions—a riff, it appears, of Freud’s conception of id, ego, and super-ego, but also the inextricable knot between trauma and grief. Here, the idea of Manila dematerialises according to what our three characters need of it: Miguel sees Manila as a refuge where he can exists with both his remaining loved ones and thus works towards it as physical destination, Andrea sees Manila as a site of new possibilities that can wash off her local failures and thus aspire for it as an ideal, Norma sees Manila as the end of her (imagined) bond with her ex-lover and thus resists it. The different coping mechanisms elucidate not just the psyche of the characters, but also their relationships with their environment.

Eschewing a more traditional narrative structure that adheres to the plot for anchorage, the anfractuous way in which the film slowly unfolds is spot-on in how it captures the essential characteristics of disaster response—the waiting, the lack of resolution, and the uncertainty that looms like a pall over whoever is left as they weave in and out of an environment constituted predominantly by whatever is left of whoever and wherever else. Deft in its avoidance of the visuality of the empty, blighted landscapes that monumentalises humanity’s impotency in the face of nature, director Manatad is astute in situating the tragedies of a collective crisis within the dense mesh of the displaced and dispossessed that emphasises how tragedy is essentially human—the emotional potency of destruction hinges on the loss of the destroyed in relation to the survivors, not the mechanics—and also an active phenomenon that demands reactions and continuity. Interestingly and ironically enough, the Tacloban of Whether the Weather Is Fine actually bursts with a sense of vigour as survivors bicker and brawl amidst cadavers and debris, demonstrating that resilience is itself a complex negotiation between ethics, instincts, and the amorphous desires in-between. 

Though the eclectic pacing and loose storyline cause the film to falter periodically under its almost two hour runtime as a unified work, it also showcases Manatad’s wit throughout its many sequences, which almost function like sketches. From the unintelligible murmurs of a military official making an announcement, to an impromptu dance mob with a lion on a nearby terraced roof, to a miraculous act of raising the dead (dog), the inanity of what is happening points to the revelation that trauma can render the world suddenly illegible and illogical. With his signature dark humour, Manatad sharply and slyly asks not just how we can make sense out of the senseless but also what could be done, should be done, in a situation where clear communication is obscured by murky intents. The key to that it would seem is pretty simply, honesty and tenderness. By foregrounding humanity and its sensitivities, absurdities, Whether the Weather Is Fine completes the sentence it started: Whether the weather is fine, what matters is that we are in this together.

- Alfonse Chiu

Whether the Weather Is Fine premiered at the 74th Locarno Film Festival where it won the Youth Jury Prize.

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