THIS POST WILL HAVE SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE
I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that had me asking “What?” every ten minutes up ‘til the very end and even after I left the theater.
Ulan is a strange yet curious tale that speaks of love and loss while incorporating fantastical supernatural elements inspired by Philippine folklore. It follows Maya Landicho (Nadine Lustre), a hopeless romantic whose imagination and innocence contrast her tendency to hate anything relating to love.
Nadine Lustre is excellent in the leading role. Her portrayal of a lonely luckless-in-love wallflower is satisfyingly believable in many ways. In a film that prefers to tell its story with beautiful visuals rather than lengthy expositions and unnecessary dialogue, Lustre conveys her character’s emotions with subtle yet well-delivered acting.
Her chemistry with her male lead clearly shows, and the romance between Maya and Peter (Carlo Aquino) would’ve been even better than it already was if we were given just a little more time with them.
But ultimately, the film’s strongest elements were its stunning visuals and its brilliant plot. Its use of creative and stylized costumes augmented with very little CGI truly gave the film a look that uniquely conveyed the innocent imaginations of a child. It gave it the look of a fairytale, a recurring motif that the film also uses to great effect.
Maya, as a character, was alienated when she was younger for having an overactive imagination and is always left wanting for love as an adult, having lost the love of her parents and her grandmother. When she was a child, Maya used her imagination to escape the things that bothered her. She would imagine her bullies as broken eggs and a terrifying typhoon as a heartbroken bride. This imaginative escapism stuck with Maya and it allowed her to see the metaphorical sunlight in the rain.
As an adult, Maya retains this sense of idealistic innocence. But now it betrays her. She seeks to find love in the most obvious of places like a long-lost college crush who turns out to be married and a fairytale-like prince who she discovers only lusts over the princess. This leaves Maya bitter, blaming the rain for ruining her chances at true love as it does for the tikbalang. It’s at this point that Maya swears to herself that she will never cry again.
The film later overturns her cursing of the rain because if it weren’t for the rain, Maya would never have met Peter, her actual true love. But this rainy redemption is later overturned again. When Maya kisses Peter in the rain, Peter reveals himself to be a seminarian and breaks Maya’s heart. But having promised herself to never cry again, Maya leaves Peter to decide for himself what he wants because she’s had her heart broken enough.
But alas, in a cruel twist of fate, just as Peter tells Maya that he’s left the seminary to be with her, a typhoon takes him from her, leaving Maya to break her promise and cry in the rain.
This climactic scene is juxtaposed with younger Maya meeting the anthropomorphic personification of a typhoon she experienced when she was younger. This typhoon bride rains down her rage for a love that left her. She warns young Maya that the death of true love is the worst pain she will ever endure and that it’s a pain that she will undoubtedly experience.
The film’s use of supernatural elements gives us a look into how Maya perceives the world. The tikbalang couple getting married in spite of the heaven’s disapproval is symbolic of Maya’s innocent idealism of love; a thought that is later revisited when adult Maya later confronts the tikbalang after she loses Peter. She blames the creature for telling her that true love is stronger than any rain, a fact that she now believes was a lie all along. The tikbalang, once portrayed as a hopeful projection of love in Maya’s youth, can now only apologize to Maya for her loss.
Shots of adult Maya weeping while being held by the tikbalang and young Maya comforting the enraged typhoon bride are juxtaposed with shots of Peter drowning. I assume that this reinforces the thought that when Maya is faced with the ugly truths of the world, she escapes into her imagination like she always did as a child. This is an assumption that is further enforced in the final scene of both young and adult Maya dancing in the rain.
Ulan masterfully uses fantastical elements and visual storytelling to tell the age-old story of a romantic tragedy. It’s a refreshing and welcomed addition to Philippine cinema that tackles the difficult truth about how heartbreaks and loss is a natural part of life, just like the rain.