In Through Night And Day, longtime lovers Ben and Jen (played by Paolo Contis and Alessandra De Rossi, respectively) embark on an epic adventure to Iceland to tick off the number one item on Jen’s bucket list. But right before the trip, Ben proposes, catching Jen off guard even though she says she always knew they’d end up together. She’s certain of Ben’s love, in spite of the fact that she’s never let him sleep with her in the 13 years they’ve been together.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is yet another entry in the trend of quirky Filipino romance films that require an exotic setting – usually overseas – as an added come-on for viewers. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is yet another Filipino romance film, period.
But the casting of Contis and De Rossi is enough hint that Through Night And Day is an attempt to break the mould of tired rom-com tropes. If you know anything about the Filipino movie industry, and with all due to respect to the two leads, you’d know that they’re not exactly matinee idols with box office pull. If anything, they’re character actors, often cast as second leads. So to see them get top billing in a big screen project tells us that, hey, maybe this isn’t going to be like every other boring, cookie-cutter romance movie that has come out in the Philippines in recent years.
In the case of Contis, the former child actor has carved out a career in comedy, mostly doing TV work for a number of years. But in Through Night And Day, he very easily slips into the role of a leading man, albeit not one in the traditional sense. His Ben tries hard to appear in control and self-assured, but often ends up coming across as awkward and confused. You still end up rooting for him, though, despite some of his more questionable actions and the circumstances of his relationship with Jen – and that’s to the actor’s credit.
Jen, meanwhile, almost tips into manic pixie dream girl territory, but solid writing and De Rossi’s performance ensure that doesn’t happen. Jen is a free spirit who has specific ideas about satisfaction and happiness, often turning on her charms to get people around her to do her bidding.
In less capable hands, she could have very easily become irksome, but De Rossi imbues the character with equal parts vulnerability and quiet strength, not to mention a self-deprecating sense of humour. Her understated performance only proves that she’s one of the most versatile actresses of her generation.
Incidentally, De Rossi gets credit for conceptualising the project. In previous interviews, she acknowledged how the story has been in her head for years and almost wrote and directed it herself. We’ll never know how that movie would’ve turned out, but she ought to be proud of this one.
You can draw a few pretty obvious parallels with films like 50 First Dates and A Walk To Remember, but writer Noreen Capili takes just enough creative liberties with Through Night And Day. Much of it concerns the dynamic between Ben and Jen: their relationship is not only believable, but sympathetic.
Contis and De Rossi have known each other for years, and their obvious on-set chemistry is an important ingredient. But it’s also to Capili’s credit that their banter and verbal tussles hardly ever feel contrived. This isn’t a couple we’re just getting to know on a meet-cute – they’ve been in a relationship for over a decade, and we get to see it in all its real, unfettered glory.
Through Night And Day also benefits from Veronica Velasco’s subtle and engaging direction, at least in the first half of the movie. Much of the film involves the two main characters interacting, particularly leading up to and during their Icelandic sojourn. In these sequences, Velasco chooses to defer to the whims of the actors and sometimes even switches to the characters’ POV to switch things up. The conceit allows us to join them, almost like a travel buddy, eavesdropping on their conversations and witnessing their squabbles.
Iceland is beautifully shot, but at no point does the location overshadow Ben and Jen’s relationship. The Nordic country, as exotic as it may be to Southeast Asian audiences, isn’t treated as a mere backdrop to an escapist fantasy. Its endless and often desolate landscapes serve a narrative purpose: to put the couple’s relationship in stark relief and set the stage for them to understand each other better.
At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. Instead, disagreements unearth deep-seated resentment, and even the most optimistic viewer would be shocked at the – spoiler alert! – fallout. This isn’t the fairy tale romance in a strange land we thought it would be.
And that’s where the film pulls a fast one on us, switching gears even as it upends expectations. The second half feels like a different movie altogether, one that might occasionally revel in its attempt to exploit anguish and heartache – it very briefly, and arguably, crosses over into ‘grief porn’, but at least that gives viewers something other than a traditional Hollywood narrative.
The film’s architects reveal a heavy hand in this part of the film, squeezing out every iota of emotion from unsuspecting viewers, but at this point, we’re too far gone and pretty much have no choice but to just give in. The cynical might sneer and the innocent might weep, but either way, emotions are coaxed out and we’re left with buckets of it when the credits roll.
Through Night And Day is out now on Netflix Philippines