By Kate Tayamora
It is a proven fact that even when the plot grows weary, the audience will still yearn for stories which harness familiarity, producing films like this:
Talented, restless, and fickle-minded, a tomboyish call center agent finds herself falling in love with her gay best friend amidst the seeming impossibility of the situation.
Director Siege Ledesma’s romantic comedy Shift revolves around their friendship, and later on the complicated, one-sided attraction of Estela (Yeng Constantino) and Trevor (Felix Roco) that sprouted from their shared experiences in the call center.
Ledesma’s vision of the pain of unrequited love translated itself flawlessly to the film, using music to effectively weave parallel stories of the characters. The montage of Estela curled up crying juxtaposed with Trevor unhappy with his relationship bursted the confinement of their and the audiences’ emotions, a scene that fully captured the conflict of of the main characters.
Not only is it well-cast, it also has a great lineup that brought forth great performance from both the central characters and the supporting actors.
Besides the dynamic tandem, Alex Medina, who plays Kevin in the film, provides a whole new different path for the story to take, creating new problems for Estela to resolve. His short and charming character who fancies Estela is something the audience must look forward to when catching this film.
Furthermore, the attempt to touch on the concept of gender swapping without enforcing cliches broadened Ledesma’s narrative.
This premise prompted the creation of an ideal environment that does not discriminate any sexual orientation, gender identity and preference, showing the audience a glimpse of what could and what should be. Trevor’s relationship with his co-workers shows us their acceptance for him, creating no divide between the LGBT and cis workers.
It is forgiving, though, to suggest that the film has utilized itself in manifesting the issues the LGBT community experience in the workplace. Taken into Filipino context, it is still common for the LGBT community to face discrimination in work, ranging from lack of legal protection, discrimination during interviews, to getting fired for their sexual orientation.
As of 2016, 41 transgender deaths in the Philippines have been recorded by the TVT project, an ongoing, comparative qualitative-quantitative research project initiated by Transgender Europe.
Reasons listed for the homicides include domestic violence experienced by the victims as well as work-related discrimination, proving that, although the country has mutual tolerance to the LGBT community, it still has no acceptance for their existence—a far cry from what Ledesma has presented in Shift.
In the film’s context, the call center setting inflicts a different connotation of a work environment onscreen as compared to the actual workplace with the workplace being infamous for the prevalence of sexual assaults to all genders.
Although it is clear that Shift is not intended to be seen using the gender lens, the film still has created an avenue that could have taken the dialogue to a higher platform, one that it has failed to reach.
Bagging the Grand Prix award in the Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan in 2014, Shift paved a fresh perspective on the classic girl meets gay narrative, offering a new direction that pushes the film out of the box of its genre.
There is, however, one thing about Shift that must be clear to the audience before continuing: even if it is a story of girl meets gay, it is not a love story.
To understand the film, the audience must be able to look at the peripheral narrative -Estela’s character development in realizing not everything in the world falls into their desired place.
Set in a deceivingly romantic environment, Shift tackles the difficulties of the risk-reward process of growing up, proving that maturity does not directly develop parallel to age. Estela and Trevor’s relationship with each other reflects the reality of young people in search of stability and security in the rockiest situations, a transition stage most people go through.
Exemplified in the scene of them reminiscing their younger selves, Estela shared her experience of falling in love with a closeted gay, while Trevor shared that a girl once fell in love with him, albeit his sexual orientation.
Estela’s attraction to Trevor is not an entirely new occurrence, yet because the same situation brought forth an opportunity to the right the wrongs she had done before, she began to hope and continued to do so, believing that maybe- just maybe- Trevor would return her feelings.
The reason the film clicked so much to the audience back then up until now is that it became a wake up call for young people to learn how to let go and move forward, a message that does not sink in so easily to our understanding.
The film’s aim is not to educate the viewers about the culture of call centers or expose the sexual awakening of the characters.
In the end, Shift is about crossing the threshold, of learning how to give up childish impulses in life, teaching the audience why such experience is perceived necessary for growth albeit the pain and confusion it brings.
Despite its premise, Shift is not a love story.
It is a story of transference to adulthood. Trevor is not the love interest. He is a threshold guardian, a character that allows the protagonist to transition to another stage of life, teaching the audience that there is no need for reciprocation.
What we need is growing up.