A telephone conversation between Ernesto “Jazz” Tigaldao and his German boyfriend Theo Rutkowski opens Baby Ruth Villarama’s "Jazz in Love." As excited words are exchanged, Villarama’s camera lingers heavily on Jazz’s face, examining its longing lines and careful contours, forcing familiarity within the few minutes that are spent to introduce us to a same-sex and Facebook-initiated long distance love affair. By the time the two lovers give each other their respective parting kisses over the phone, Jazz has already become a fully-formed character, a hopelessly enamoured romantic who is on his way to Germany to wed his foreign prince and live his happily-ever-after.
It is not as if adorably optimistic Jazz does not deserve his fairy tale ending. He has studied and learned enough German to pass the required language examinations that would hopefully lead to a fiancé visa. He has survived the whispered curiosities and suspicions of his community, one that endures radio talk shows that disparage homosexual unions in the name of religion and morality. He has suffered through his father’s alcohol-induced coldness and frustrations. Despite the countless challenges, Jazz remains perpetually smiling, seemingly oblivious of the gravity of his love’s challenges.
"Jazz in Love" has all the makings of a perfect love story. Villarama has carefully placed and presented the foundations of her found fairy tale. She has an overly charming lead with a story marked with conflicts and issues that are relevant in a world of constantly shifting norms and migrations. Early on, Jazz’s route to happiness seems already predestined. He simply needs to pass his German examination, wait for Theo’s arrival, and be brought to Germany to live their expected perfect lives. However, as bits and pieces of Jazz’s life are revealed through impressions and anecdotes from his friends and relatives, it becomes apparent that there is something else quietly simmering beneath the infectious smiles and flirtatious retorts.
Theo does arrive. However, Jazz seems to be more in love than his partner, a rather pragmatic fifty-plus year old military staff who admits to surrendering to a life of being single. Their conversations, creatively framed by Villarama and co-cinematographer Dexter dela Pena to maximize available lighting to sentimental effect, are made lively mostly by Jazz’s undeniable attraction to Theo. The sparks though are momentary, replaced almost immediately by doubts and suspicions. In the midst of all their plans to legitimize their union, Jazz’s father is still cold and frustrated, drowning himself with liquor if and when the opportunity passes. His relatives, who are quick to blame their Filipino upbringing for their traditional morality, are more tolerant of the upcoming wedding than actually happy. Moreover, Theo seems to be more pragmatic than in love in entering into the marriage.
Of course, all these are just inferences and conclusions based on the subtle gestures and dialogues as captured and pieced together by Villarama. An entire relationship, despite its cyber beginnings and the haziness of its end, cannot truly be summarized within the scope of a documentary that also takes into consideration the filmmaker’s leanings and biases. Villarama has probably started "Jazz in Love" as something sweeter, something that will showcase love beyond borders, languages, and outdated prejudices. The limitations of documenting simply what unreliable fate chooses to do with Jazz’s life within a very short span has given her footage that showcases exactly the opposite, that despite the numerous pleasures that love can give, it forces us to be both blind and numb to its faults and deficiencies. Villarama, sensitive but unflinching in her presentation of the realities she has uncovered, gives impassioned Jazz both the respect and adoration to grant him that sheen of fantasy to his objectively imperfect romance.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Lessons from the School of Inattention."