Fire in the belly
Sarah is the quintessential independent woman, with a career she loves, for which she has gained recognition. She’s with a man who understands her priorities, who knows that theirs is a life shared in places difficult and dangerous. She’s got a fire in her belly, and you know it because there is frustration in the fact of being tied down to that couch, her leg in a cast. You know it because she demands for some coffee, some alcohol, anything at all that she’s told she cannot have.
That fire in her belly is this relationship’s undoing, and you know it the moment you watch how Sarah does not falter. She admits to infidelity without much regret. She agrees to marriage without much romance. It’s like she is elsewhere but in that apartment, dealing with James, the man who knows only to falter.
That is, there is the instability of this man relative to the woman. There is a weight in his step, the kind that is uncertain and insecure, but also there is an eagerness to please. James is the man undone, by the wars he has witnessed on the one hand, but also by this one that he was losing in the face of a woman stoic in her confidence, caustic in her wit. James is sure of what he wants, where he wants to go: he wants to stay, build a life, fall in love. It is romantic for sure, but it is also tragic—as is this relationship. One wishes the direction (by Rem Zamora) had captured this tragic relationship better, making sure that the fights did not become mere shouting matches, with words on top of each other. But then again, he has actors who made this relationship real despite words lost in the shouting.
Buencamino takes this character and builds upon its undoing to the point of implosion. Here, where there are outbursts and shouting, what remains clear is the sense of this character’s distress, not so much a balance that Buencamino strikes, as it is a nuance that would’ve gone unnoticed were we watching less of an actor doing it. The contemporariness of this tragedy demanded a portrayal beyond archetype, and Buencamino rises to the occasion of this tragic character, one that is probably the most memorable here.
Justice and capture
The critical question of capture is one that is Sarah’s to answer. Faced with Mandy who questions the task of taking photographs to portray a truth about a subject, instead of actually helping the subject, Sarah is cool but defensive: journalists tell the story, they don’t change it.
But Sarah’s breakdowns reveal that in fact she carries the weight of that question, where she has been told not to take photographs, where she has been judged for doing only that in war-torn spaces. Trapped in her home in America, memory does not only remind her of the dangers she faces, but also of her complicity in injustice. This is at the heart of her crisis which, without the urgency of work, she is forced to contend with. Normalcy is her white noise.
Abad Santos’s Sarah is everything you will admire—and hate—about the powerful independent woman. There is nothing to love about Sarah here, but there is something extraordinary about Abad Santos’s portrayal of her, where one feels for the character’s undoing, cloaked as this might be in her jadedness, in her sense of what is just, in the things that she herself silences. Abad Santos makes the crisis of capture real to any of us who have gone to places ravaged by injustice, and who are self-critical enough to know that there is something fundamentally wrong with speaking for the voiceless, telling stories that would otherwise be left untold.
That this resonates in third world Philippines is not at all about being journalist, nor about love. It resonates because right here is where the wars continue, and need and want and hunger remain untold, if not spun as propaganda to benefit those who do not suffer the injustice.
Time Stands Still resonates because it is here that time is exactly that, and injustice can be nothing but entrapment. And those who engage in capture have to wonder if what they do matters at all.