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Written by Lorenzo Bin

“A dark room is the province. As you move, you always bump into the same people you’ve known since you were born”; writes Paolo Sorrentino in the book: “They are all right”, and this movie seems to fit this description perfectly.

The story of Water Lemon takes place in a small town on the coast of the Philippines, the protagonist is a boy with Asperger’s syndrome named Filemòn Arboleda obsessed with the sea coquettishly called Lemon by his fellow villagers. His mother, Pina (Tessie Tomas), is widely respected by the local society, but silently suffers Filemón’s condition, and the recent death of her husband.

His story is intertwined with the one of the other inhabitants of the place, united by the desire to fill the void given by the dissatisfaction of the provincial life in which they find themselves, spiced with irony towards the way they try to escape their destinies.

These are the premises to describe the work of Lemuel Lorca who decides to use the location of his hometown to picture a reality that with the necessary differences has distinguished him, trying to convey his perspective to the viewer.

The plot revolves around the boy’s morbid passion for the sea and how his condition makes him different, colliding with the everyday life of a world which, although small, flows and leaves no room for those who do not follow the wave. The protagonist finds solace on the internet chatting with a woman from Seychelles who seems to be interested in his cause. The internet cafe he frequents is run by Maritesse, a young woman obsessed with leaving the countryside for a better life and to do so, she spends her days online chatting with men, looking for someone to make her wish come true, and her grandfather, who would later bond with Lemon, understanding his interests. If you are in your early twenties and you are still struggling to find your place in the world, you feel that your surroundings do not match you, this is the film for you.

I personally found interesting that the film analyzes the contradictions and differences in perspectives of different generations compared, in an increasingly globalized era not free from fears and doubts. The silence of some scenes and the monotony of daily actions make the atmosphere created by the director realistic and help the viewer to identify with that jarring routine in which people find themselves without the need for specific or unusual events.

 As in my personal experience I got to taste the Filipino reality, not only the city lights of Manila but also the often forgotten rural areas for a long period of time, living in a local family, I appreciated the director’s quest not to look for the easy spectacularization of a world that for many is foreign or an easy “mirror for larks” for naive tourists, but to paint the harsh reality that if it does not immediately capture the viewer’s attention, leaves a bittersweet taste to those who understand the dynamics of a society without stimuli. 

I found the dialogue between Pina, Lemon’s mother and the driver who accompanied her on the seafront emblematic, in which he asks her: “why don’t you go to Manila?” naively adding “life is surely much better there”, to which she replies annoyed: “Life is also good here, just people aren’t satisfied, they’ll plunge into the mess of Manila instead of holding their ground”.

This exchange summarizes utterly successfully the confrontation between two generations of thought and mentality, which often characterizes these places; but more generally, the common youthful thought that dissatisfaction often finds an outlet in the environment in which we live, and we have the naive belief that running away or simply moving to the city is the solution to every problem, often unaware of what we will meet, being swallowed up by a system bigger than us. 

As a lover of Italian cinema I could not help but notice a similarity in the ending with I Vitelloni by Federico Fellini. Although the two realities are far from each other, one set in Italy and the other in the Philippines, the prerogatives are similar and the atmosphere created finds some affinity. The protagonist, realizing his incompatibility with those around him,  one night silently decides to leave his village in search of… only he knows what. In both cases, the director leaves the future unknown, letting the viewer with the possibility of interpreting the uncertainty of the conclusion.

Final frame of I Vitelloni
Final frame of WaterLemon