UnTrue (2019)

“I am married to a lunatic.”

So says Mara (Cristine Reyes) of her missing husband as she is interviewed by a police officer at the beginning of writer/director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s UnTrue – and before she even launches into her story of a marriage marred by unstable behaviour and domestic violence, the horrific bruising across her face already tells its own tale. Mara will narrate her meet-cute with wine dealer Joachim (Xian Lim), the relationship that blossoms between these two Filipino exiles in Georgia, and the emerging signs that an undisclosed past dogs Joachim’s conscience, occasionally bringing episodes of paranoid delusion and psychotic aggression. Mara’s story, shown in flashback, is a loving romance that gets tied up in a tragedy of madness.

A third of the way through its duration, UnTrue switches to Joachim’s confused version of events, recounted to a psychiatrist – a version in which it is Mara who is the lunatic, or at least possessed by a very angry, vengeful ghost. In other words, Bernardo’s film comes with a she said/he said structure that essentially tells the same story twice, with minor if significant variations that are difficult to reconcile – and under a title that primes us to expect deception. As the same incidents are revisited, in the style of Rashomon or perhaps of Gone Girl, from two conflicting points of view, the inherently repetitive nature of this narrative structure ensures a certain lack of economy – yet Bernardo keeps things engaging by grading these two sections in starkly different colour schemes (Mara’s is warm, Joachim’s harsher), while the two actors show great versatility in playing their rôles twice in markedly contrasting ways from one section to the next. 

Mara tells a story of terrible abuse, but ends by declaring her abiding love for Joachim and her desire to be reunited with him. It seems an unlikely prospect – but at least the thesis and antithesis of their incompatible stories will be synthesised in the film’s final third, where overlapping, convoluted flashbacks provide the key to what has really happened between these two. For this third section fills in gaps in both their recent and more distant histories, introducing a tritagonist (played by Rhen Escano) who in different ways haunts both Mara’s and Joachim’s stories. What ensues is a messy, twisty battle of the sexes, involving old sins, recurring echoes of the past, and a slow, calculating revenge. 

UnTrue is concerned with irreconcilable differences and the unity of opposites, both in its principal relationship and in its divided narrative. Forming the film’s centrepiece is the famous statue of Kartlis Deda in Tbilisi, a miniature reproduction of which sits on the policeman’s desk. The ‘Mother of Georgia’ carries a bowl of grapes in one hand for her friends, and a sword in the other for her enemies – and as such, she not only symbolises the duality of the Georgian character, but also embodies the binary nature of love and hate which drives the film.  The question is which of these characters holds the grapes, and which wields the sword – and the answer may well just be that, like the statue, these two complex, contradictory characters can handle both items, as they engage in a dialectic of male and female, past and present, wrath and forgiveness.

© Anton Bitel