TIFF 2021 review: Whether the Weather is Fine (Carlo Francisco Manatad)

“While Whether the Weather is Fine uses the backdrop of the 2013 event, the film’s message couldn’t have been more timely in the context of the current Philippine landscape, as the country continues to suffer with the mishandling of the current pandemic.”

In November 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in the Philippines, hitting the country’s Visayas region and leaving pure destruction in its wake – more than 1.1 million houses damaged, 27,000 people injured, and 7,000 lives lost. This disaster is the backdrop of Carlo Francisco Manatad’s debut feature-length film Whether the Weather is Fine, playing at this year’s Toronto Film Festival after its debut at Locarno a month earlier. Manatad has stated how personal this story was for him, as it was his hometown that was directly hit by this disaster. The main protagonist Miguel (Daniel Padilla) together with his girlfriend Andrea (Rans Rifol) searches for his mother Norma (Charo Santos) so they can flee to the city, as another typhoon is bound to hit their area. Their means of escape is a huge boat, reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, likely an allusion to the country’s strong religious beliefs and also a wink at all the numerous animals that appear in the film.

Resiliency is a concept that has been pretty much abused and overused in the Philippines. As a country that experiences multiple calamities a year, it seems that Filipinos are almost expected to be resilient – to smile despite the desolation, to extend our hand and offer whatever we have even if it’s not enough, and to believe that tragedies do happen and that good things will come after. The film takes a more complex route in terms of how characters respond in the aftermath of this tragedy. On one hand, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where people steal each other’s stuff, cheat to get ahead in lines to get relief goods, and even use children as hostages in exchange for chicken. On the other, it’s still a community that aims to survive – children playing in the sea, women lighting candles and praying together.

Dreaming is a recurrent theme in Whether the Weather is Fine. The movie begins with its protagonist Miguel waking up from his sleep. There are many sequences in which the characters tend to imagine themselves in scenarios outside of where they really are, with moments when they are drifting into consciousness, probably a coping mechanism to escape the harrowing reality they’re currently stuck in. Whether the Weather is Fine has a wicked sense of humor, and it’s impressive how all these tonal shifts pay off at last with a really memorable ending.

For a debut feature the film looks really polished and large in scale, and one can assume this will probably be a point of conversation around the film: a human tragedy unfolding as the backdrop is painted with such vivid, stunning imagery of exquisite set pieces to the point of looking really glossy. These cinematic visuals are, however, tonally fitting with the film’s magical realist approach and its striking use of music, which is another of the movie’s strongest suits.

The three-hander ensemble is really fantastic, with each actor going through different approaches with regard to their characters. National treasure Charo Santos, who returned to acting in 2016 in Lav Diaz’ Golden Lion winner The Woman Who Left, effortlessly shifts between quiet and showy moments. Newcomer Rans Rifol, from the popular girl group MNL 48, shows nerves of steel going toe to toe with the two heavy hitters she’s acting with. There’s a confidence in her performance that makes her a natural. Finally there’s Daniel Padilla, the country’s most popular young actor. Stripped of vanity, and mostly required to act with his eyes, he does the most with gazes and silence, which results in a career-best turn from him. The movie also adds a certain personal touch to these actors, with Rifol and Padilla’s younger photos and videos cleverly stitched into the film.

While Whether the Weather is Fine uses the backdrop of the 2013 event, the film’s message couldn’t have been more timely in the context of the current Philippine landscape, as the country continues to suffer with the mishandling of the current pandemic. In times like these when survival is a daily battle and information confusion has been rampant, one’s faith in humanity continues to be challenged. There’s a lot to unpack in Whether the Weather is Fine. It’s a cinematic experience that transcends beyond its already gorgeous visuals. It will be exciting to follow Manatad’s succeeding works after this, given how confident and solid this one turned out to be.

Whether the Weather is Fine (Carlo Francisco Manatad)