First of two parts
At the heart of Time Stands Still (written by Donald Margulies) is the crisis of capture, the kind that’s familiar to anyone who engages with more difficult, more violent, more painful current events in order to present these as honestly as possible, without intervening in its story, and in order to do justice to its telling.
Photojournalist Sarah (Ana Abad Santos) and journalist James (Nonie Buencamino) have gained acclaim and credibility for doing work on conflict-torn territories in the Middle East. Working as individuals together, they find themselves victims of the stories that they follow.
James had gone home ahead of Sarah, traumatized by having witnessed a bomb explosion before his eyes. He would soon enough find himself picking Sarah up from a hospital in Germany after she falls victim to a bombing herself. She is in a coma for weeks, and wakes up to a broken leg and scarred face.
The couple comes home to their staid apartment in America, the war they came from now the backdrop of their story, as it is the context of the relationship that is in the throes of individual trauma. It is a relationship that can now be viewed without the urgency of elsewhere. Or so they think.
Love in a time of war
The relationship between Sarah and James is about love in a time of war, where profession and its demands weigh down on the narratives of loyalty and fidelity. Where the ability at erasure is extraordinarily employed as a matter of another’s death, if not one’s own living.
So there is forgiveness borne of an almost impatience, if not a decision to stay. There is nowhere to go, at least not until Sarah has fully recovered, and in the meantime there is a need to find direction, there is the question of what now? If not: where to?
The easy—if not stubborn—answer is back to normal, which in this case is is war and famine. There is obviously love here, as there is companionship, but the romance is one that’s being had with work that they’ve enjoyed in common, that is part of their history as couple.
In the context of this romance with war, America and home is a displacement, an almost entrapment. The lighting (by John Batalla) is always beautifully morose, the video montages that begin each scene haunting. It happens in the apartment of Sarah and James, one that is without walls or doors. There is also a tellingly unused bedroom.
Love as simple
The fundamental crisis of this relationship is one that is individual, and it is rendered questionable by the existence of another relationship in their midst: that of Richard (Nor Domingo) and Mandy (Giannina Ocampo).
Richard’s role is one that is old and familiar, an ex-flame of Sarah, an editor of a magazine that James is freelance contributor to. They all go back years, and Richard is a fan of Sarah’s work. In the midst of crisis he encourages them to do a book project, where Sarah’s photos might be accompanied by James’s writing about their years covering the Middle East.
Domingo’s Richard might be the weakest portrayal here, where the character was too light in his step, too uncertain, for him to come off as an editor who is in a superior position to the journalists. That he disappears in that confrontation scene with James is also a measure of Domingo, where Buencamino’s James had already established an amount of irrationality, if not insecurity, enough to warrant the random outbursts powerful.
But maybe the point of this Richard was to bring into the story Mandy, whose youth and vibrancy, whose simplistic imagining of what the world is—what the world should be—is stark counterpoint to Sarah’s jadedness. Mandy is probably too optimistic for her own good, but she also raises the right questions with regards the work the journalists do: what of capture versus actually doing something?
Ocampo’s Mandy is en pointe, a reminder of the other times I’ve seen her doing comedic timing like it’s nobody’s business in plenty-a-forgettable play with Repertory Philippines. It would of course be interesting to see what it would be like were the portrayal less ditzy and more youthful exuberance, if only to see if that question she raises about journalism changes in weight at all.
Regardless, Mandy succeeds as the intervention that it is to the Sarah-James relationship, where her normalcy and her dreaming, love and simplicity, become counterpoint to the seeming urgency that is in Sarah, aching to get well, wanting to do something now, be anywhere but here.
To be continued