Everyone had unique ways of coping during the pandemic. Some turned to music, others to meditation—but for one Filipino filmmaker, the only way to make sense of the chaos was to write. Losing a few dear people along the way and with his long-term relationship coming to an end, Jun Robles Lana (“Bwakaw,” “Die Beautiful”) delved into his memories and experiences to create a psychological thriller masterpiece titled “About Us But Not About Us.”
It chronicles the hidden connection between a gay university professor (currently grieving the passing of his long-term partner) and his former literature student (an aspiring writer seeking mentorship for his literary pursuits) over a simple meal. But as more revelations unfold, what starts as a seemingly innocent and friendly conversation between the two soon turns into a “deadly game that can ruin lives and shatter dreams.”
“It’s fictional, but the memories and everything that the characters are talking about are my personal memories—even the most painful ones,” says Lana in an interview with PÖFF TV.
He poured his heart and soul into this cathartic project, drawing on his own personal struggles to create a gripping and evocative story that explores some of the darkest corners of the human psyche. “It was the first time that I was able to do something like that. Usually, I work on scripts for months, sometimes years, but this is so personal that I was able to write it in three days,” the veteran filmmaker reveals.
Despite the limitations of filming at the height of the pandemic, Lana was determined to bring his vision to life. He worked closely with his talented cast and crew, including actors Romnick Sarmenta and Elijah Canlas, to create an atmospheric chamber film that would captivate audiences. (Fun fact: Lana already had Canlas in mind while writing the screenplay and personally invited him to audition for the role.)
“About Us But Not About Us” is reminiscent of a theater play—with the entire film being shot in a single location, set at a table with two chairs as the only major props. But as much as it borrows a lot of elements from theater, Lana wanted “the lens to tell the story.” “For this particular project, because there [were] just two characters, I wanted to be very intentional with the shots. I wanted to tell how the dynamic of the two characters was changing in terms of who’s in the power position and who’s suddenly changing his stance on things. I wanted it to be very visual,” says Lana.
The film premiered globally at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival—a.k.a one of the largest film events in Northern Europe—where it garnered positive reviews and won the Critics’ Picks Best Film award. It also had a screening at the Queer Screen’s 30th Mardi Gras Film Festival in Sydney, Australia.
The accolades don’t stop there, though. “About Us But Not About Us” is making its local debut at the first-ever summer edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival in April. Among the official festival entries are Brillante Mendoza’s “Apag”, Chris Martinez’s “Here Comes the Groom” (a sequel to the 2010 film “Here Comes the Bride”), Joven Tan’s “Kahit Maputi na Ang Buhok Ko”, JP Habac’s “Love You a Long Time”, RC Delos Reyes’ “Unravel: A Swiss Love Story”, Bela Padilla’s “Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko”, and Fifth Solomon’s “Single Bells.”
Still from “About Us But Not About Us” (2022)