“I think this is your best work to date,” a very pleased human canvas reacts to the titular tattoo artist whose body art she has just finished inking. End scene. Film fades out completely. Somehow, this also rings true to the inclusive impression of the film, and independent filmmaker Lemuel Lorca’s youngish career.
Technically, Ned’s Project is Lem Lorca’s most polished film. There is a little fluffiness into the core, but for a dramedy, this little lesbian-themed feature has accomplished more than what it seemingly aimed for. The narrative follows Henedina/Ned De Asis (Angeli Bayani) to her goal in becoming pregnant. Ned does not have to verbalize to explain for such motivation, but we are clearly recapped that she dreads the idea of living and dying alone, of which reflected upon her poignant association with her mentor-friend Max/Maxima (the magnificent Lui Manansala); she becomes intolerably scarred when people she cares most leave her, as did she express when her only sister (Ana Abad Santos) decided to leave the rundown house all to herself and uprooted her own family in the jolting provincial capital, and such is also the case when her longtime partner, Gladys (Dionne Monsanto), decided to leave her for a man. We don’t get all the character goal and motivation wrung to our neck, but instead we see why she is focused and desperate to bear a child. This desperation, somehow, becomes the peg that fits best to supplement the director’s natural flair for comedy. It is also through this comedic turn that makes Ned’s desperation somehow bungles the film’s overall tone a notch down. On one hand, the introduction of a new love interest (Max Eigenmann) perfectly irons out that crease, and in magnificent display of gifted knack for storytelling, screenwriter John Bedia and filmmaker Lorca interconnect the main narrative in the appendage of a blossoming romantic dalliance, to the film’s solid mélange of comedy, drama, romance, and cinematic portraiture.
Creativity-wise, Ned’s Project paints a compelling storyline that balances the splendid employ of aerial photography, well-temperament of night cinematography, and the fusion of lighthearted comedy and the subdued dramatic compass into a palpable canvas. No scope broader than it should, no excessive melodramas embroiled to heighten the impact, and each shot and design does not fall under the poetic pretense to meander. It is fervent in its goal to entertain its audience, but it still keeps the well-founded grasp of its robust directorial choices. When a film is told to be very “visual,” as often, the merit pertains to its ability to take the photographic splendor based on how the cinematic intention delivers – in Ned’s Project, its astounding visual elements do not just enrich the drama, but rather invigorate the film’s narrative to glide smoothly without the trick of merely pleasuring the eyes.
Politically, the SOGIE correctness of Lorca’s second LGBT feature transcends the boundary without the unnecessary tree-shaking measures. It reintegrates the myth by fishing out the misconception from the very same book of realities. It becomes more relevant and empowering, mostly, because Angeli Bayani’s splendid character work - whether she is a housemaid in Singapore, or a prostitute in a sleepy miracle-hungry fishing village, or the mother whose daughter was attacked by a preying aquatic reptile – does not only mesmerizes, but it most notably humanizes over and above the norms and stereotypes. Mostly, because Bayani’s strongest quality as an actor is her instinctive portrayal, she does not judge her character based on their nature and appearances. In Ned’s Project, Bayani portrays the persona of a butch lesbian with both relatable charms and rupturing truth. When she says, as Ned, she does not care what people have to say with how she lives her life, she is not just verbalizing a personal conviction – she is essentially serving as a mouthpiece to every person’s noble intention to become an independent and productive individual – regardless of sexuality and social standing. Most suitably, the film does not fall prey to over-politicizing its main character by forcing her to become a poster girl for the LGBT community. Ned is an integral part of the community and she is just a member of the bigger revolution that adheres to uphold equality, whether she is aware or not. She is convincingly created as she is as purportedly based on an actual person whom the director is apparently very fond of.
Lorca’s skills set as a filmmaker is evidently well-honed, inspired, and concentrated; from his successful first feature (Bola, 2011), to a string of festival darlings such as Intoy Syokoy, Mauban, and Water Lemon – he continuously challenges himself to make films better than the last. We love Water Lemon because it connects us to the filmmaker’s exceedingly intimate relationship with his hometown – while Lorca benefits immensely from combining his filmic talents to seasoned writers – it becomes curious whether this Quezonian film director will be yielding more successes if he attempts to translate that cinematic intimacy he clutches so dearly when he becomes the auteur he ostensibly reveals himself to be. Ned’s Project is a giant step towards realizing such encouragement.
Lorca once told us that each film he makes is exhausting in the sense that he gives his entire himself to it - body, heart, soul, even shelling out the entire budget to the production almost to a fault (meaning, he ends up earning nothing for himself), it actually sounds cliché and trivial to describe in words, but the sincerity and passion he resonates upon the audience captures twice the amount of how he builds himself as a sunny person and the filmmaker who thrives in the intimacy and faithfulness of his chosen art.