“A coming of age story about Isabel’s lessons and realizations on life and death as a funeral videography intern. Due to her family situation, Isabel is cynical and skeptical of everything that comes her way. When she enters the I-libings for her required college internship, she sees it as the worst internship her college adviser could suggest to her. Later as she accumulates her required hours, she realizes that the company is not just a place where videographers make money out of other people’s misfortunes but is a place where the dead and the grieving receive special attention. It all comes full circle when Isabel is faced with an unusual family tragedy. Isabel realizes that her internship might have been just 200 hours, but the lessons that the I-libings left her would last a lifetime.“
The synopsis is kind of a giveaway as to what happens in the movie, but as I was watching it what felt more important to me was Isabel’s journey from who she was at the beginning of the film, to who she becomes in the end.
I don’t know if I would call I-Libings a coming-of-age story. What makes a coming-of-age story anyway? Traditionally, it’s what happens to thrust a young person into the world of adults. From what my understanding, anyway. According to Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt), it’s a film genre “which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.” I didn’t really see that happen in the movie. Although we do see our protagonist, Isabel, reach maturity–her realizations were already burning inside her, only wanting acknowledgement–and a jumping board.
Which brings me to what I like best about I-Libings–while our main character is Isabel, this isn’t just her story. One of the songs I love listening to is “For Good” from the musical Wicked. A couple of lines in the song go, “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives, for a reason–bringing something we must learn…” And I love how that was given a highlight in this particular film.
Isabel is given the choice to work at I-libings, and while she doesn’t like it, she accepts the internship–and she meets the strict boss who doesn’t cuddle her, doesn’t make special treatments for her–which leads her to working late, and meeting a mourner who shares a realization with Isabel. It’s a little bit random, but that realization helps Isabel face her own misgivings and set free the realizations she has come to in the course of the story.
One of the things I learned in writing stories, especially stories for television, is that viewers love getting surprised–but they like it more when it feels organic, when they see the surprise unfolding in front of their eyes.
So in the climax of I-Libings, when Isabel finally makes a stand, we are surprised at the strength and resolve she shows, and yet we do not question where it comes from because we’ve seen how the events in the film have helped her come to that place where she can speak her mind freely without fear.
If I could sum up I-Libings in one word, it is this: heartfelt.
And though the film started slow, I later on appreciated the treatment that the director employed in telling the story. While television needs something that would always grab the attention of the viewers, the same cannot be said for films. Also amazing were Earl Ignacio who gave a very nuanced portrayal of the I-libings’ boss, Erwin; and Louella De Cordova, whose quiet acting was heartbreaking as Isabel’s mother Mely. Marc Abaya was wonderful as the antagonistic older brother, and Glaiza de Castro delivered what the role of Isabel demanded from her, during the light moments and the really crucial ones.
I-Libings is one of the entries for this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival at the CCP, which runs from July 16 to 23. You can also catch it at Greenbelt during the same week.