In “That the weather is beautiful”, the survivors of the typhoon “go from zombies to humans”
Filipino filmmaker Carlo Francisco Manatad has edited nearly 100 films, but “Let the weather be nice?” Is the first feature film he has directed. This awe-inspiring drama about three people from Tacloban City grappling with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, has just premiered in North America at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film opens with sounds of wind and rain and footage of the storm before the dazzling aerial shot of Manatad de Miguel (Daniel Padilla) lying on a sofa, surrounded by rubble. The atmosphere is both tense and tactile, and Daniel and his friend Andrea (Rans Rifol) wade through the water and debris corridors in search of his mother Norma (Charo Santos), who is in search of his injured husband.
As the three survivors roam the city and aim to board a ship for Manila, they have a series of encounters that range from spooky to magical. But they also face moral issues and are forced to make irrevocable decisions.
Manatad spoke of the making of his ambitious and accomplished film, “Whether the Weather Is Fine,” which would have additional resonance for people recovering from the aftermath of tropical cyclones, such as Hurricane Ida.
This is your first feature film as a director. What prompted you to tell this story, after working for so long as an editor?
I think working as an editor helped. I graduated from the Film Institute at the University of the Philippines and wanted to be a director, but everyone in my class wanted to be a director. I didn’t want to compete with them; you can’t dive into the industry that fast. So during film school, I focused on something that interests me, and the editing is, in a sense, kind of staging – you have that control over the story and can actually change a part of the story. So I concentrated on editing. After a few years, I realized that I had edited a lot of films, so let me try directing. I started to make shorts. If that doesn’t work, I can always go back to editing.
I was working on the feature for a while. I spent seven years developing it. When the storm hit, it was really traumatic. I realized that I had to tell a more fleshed out and personal story; I had to put my experience in the film. If I had done this earlier, it would have been another movie. The whole process gave me the freedom and confidence to do it. Editing helped me collaborate with directors and talk to them about their mistakes and what not to do. I got all these ideas from them.
What can you say about your experience or that of your family with Typhoon Haiyan that inspired the film?
I have worked in Manila for many years and do not come home to Tacloban often. When I got home, I felt uncomfortable or insecure. I returned [after the storm], and it was the most surreal experience. I came to a place where I was born and raised, and knew everything geographically, but felt like a new place. I didn’t know where to go. I was on a military plane to go to Tacloban, and I had footage from the news that everyone was dead, and there were corpses on top of each other. On the flight, I programmed that everyone was dead. I arrived, and my only concern as I walked through the ruins was that if I saw my family dead, I wanted to give them a proper burial. As I went to my house which was destroyed, I saw that my friends were dead. I saw all these familiar things already gone. But luckily I found almost all of my family. The only thing that mattered was leaving this miserable place. In the Philippines, we have the concept of being very territorial. My father said to me: “No, I will not leave, everything will be fine.” I said, “Look around. Nobody’s alive. It’s good that we’re alive. Let’s just go.” He was pushing to the point that we fought, almost physically. He was born here and wants to die here.
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The landscape of the film is extraordinary and surreal. The background characters are reminiscent of the zombies roaming the rubble. What can you say about the shooting of the film?
We shot this movie years after the storm, so the locations we used were pretty much back to normal. If you go there, it is as if no thunderstorm has passed. We had to recreate everything from scratch. Due to budget constraints, we had to recreate things in Manila. There were some non-negotiable things for me – especially key scenes, like the ones from the Astrodome rescue center – and we shot on location in Tacloban. I had collaborated with my production designer, Whammy Alcazaren, on my short films, and he understood what I wanted. We had reference photos and I really wanted them to be as authentic as possible, so every detail had to match the reference photos. It actually took a while; the construction of the set took two to three months. With production design and cinematography, they knew the look I wanted.
The characters travel to dark places, walk in murky waters, and are constantly reminded that they may have lost everything. There is a real emotional force with what happens in the film, and you can feel it with every traveling shot. How did you conceive of the use of space in the film?
With this kind of film, the use of space and the complexity of the use of space really matters. The treatment of the film is meant to be post-typhoon. Usually you see all of these things happening, but in the key scenes, where you have to see this, I don’t show it. Because the film is a journey of the characters. You know the synopsis, and space is always with them, regardless of their movement. I want the film, in general, to follow this journey of being lost with the characters. I didn’t want the space to get in the way of the spectators. It is organized and disorderly chaos. You follow something, but there is something going on in the background, and then you follow them again. All travel and there is a sense of geography, but they don’t know where they are going. It is a traveling film. You walk, get to this point, then they walk again.
“Whether the Weather Is Fine” is part of that kind of road movie that never leaves town. What decisions did you make with the narrative and the challenges each character would face?
I needed all of these roadblocks to slowly create the essence of the violence they endured all of their lives. At that exact moment, you see how it progresses until it explodes. The particular moments may not be dramatic, but it may be the violence of the space, or of the event. Sometimes nothing is happening actively, but the visual is inherently violent. The more he pushes the character, the greater the impact when it comes to deciding something.
What can you say about the themes of faith, politics and belonging in the film? There are moments of prayer, meetings with figures of authority and a sense of community.
The Philippines is a country dominated by Catholics. I went to a Catholic school when I was young. I am a Catholic, but I do not practice. I believe there is a higher being no matter who it is. I wonder how religion constitutes a community and how this community functions or how it affects another community. One great thing I wanted to push forward is that in disasters like this, money isn’t even currency. People are trying to find something to admire. What I have portrayed with the authorities or the government are contrasts. “You have this storm coming” and “The storm is not coming.” »Religion is the only thing [people] hang on, because there is nothing left. But if you hang on to it, does it return anything in return? Just by believing in something, they feel something positive. I’m not saying I’m anti-religion, but how do they view religion at times like this? Religion can bind people together, but by believing in something higher than yourself, you feel there is a certainty no matter what it is. And in the Philippines, it’s always like that. You got to worship and pray to this God, and it’ll give you something back. But it is uncertain. It makes them happy. Faith doesn’t answer you. It’s right there. It depends on how you interpret it and how it affects you. It’s a choice, and it’s within you how it affects you.
There are also moments of levity in the film. You have a nice scene in a tattoo parlor, where Andrea inks Miguel, and there’s a dance scene looking like a flash mob, and kids playing. Can you talk about creating the tone of the film? The images are so heavy, but there are some very striking scenes.
When you see all those movies that are about tragedy or that are “post-apocalyptic”, they can be super dark and melodramatic. I felt that the movie, with all of this violence, and the people trying to survive, and all the things that actually happen, I wanted to have specific moments that were mundane, absurd. But those moments turn the characters from zombies to humans again. They talk about their future, their dreams, their hopes. It’s cliché to say, but it feels like a character who comes of age. Andrea is very brave and aggressive and jokes a lot, but she had dreams, and maybe she lost her family, but she keeps going. It comes from what happened. Miguel was a good son, who follows his mother and Andrea, but his journey helps him find his own freedom. Is this the freedom he always wanted? It’s also nice to watch the children’s random characters. This is based on what I thought when I experienced it – there are people who cry and cry, and I have always seen children playing. They were the ones who were thinking right. Their innocence plays a bigger role in the violence they suffered. They are more mature. The older people are in a dog-eating dog survival mode, and then you have these kids who have more control than the adults. This dictates how the space and place will be in the near future.