Warning: spoilers ahead.
The story of a girl who keeps looking for love in all the wrong places but in the end realizes that she has to love herself first has been portrayed in films so often I would already consider it a cliché. And if you told me that Irene Villamor’s twist to this story is an added layer of Filipino superstition…well, I honestly wouldn’t exactly be ecstatic.
However, in hindsight, I’m more than thankful I watched Ulan, and even more thankful that Irene Villamor’s very Filipino and very poetic take on a topic that’s been overdone made me eat any negative preconceptions I may have had prior. More than being an absolutely beautiful piece of storytelling—spectacular acting from Nadine, cinematography that contributes to the narrative as much as it does to the aesthetic, sound design that aids in hammering in the emotions of each scene, among others—it drives the message of self-love home in the most meaningful way possible.
The film follows the story of the character of Maya—both as an adult and as a child, in parallel. Having a very traditional and very superstitious grandmother raising her during her formative years, she develops a strong affinity for superstitions herself. This is reinforced further when as a child she encounters a pair of tikbalang getting married while it was raining on a sunny day (a common Filipino superstition). During a brief exchange with the pair during their wedding ceremony, Maya was taught by the tikbalang to believe that there is nothing that can stop true love.
We see Maya bring her belief in fantasy when she gets older, as she has her heart broken by her “first love” Mark. Faithful to what the tikbalang had told her, Maya has always believed that her childhood friend was her true love and that they were meant to be, only to find out that during the years they spent apart he had married and had a child. Because she felt like the rain she went through on her way to Mark’s house made her look hideous, this is the first time in the film that Maya airs out her belief that all good things in her life had been ruined by rain.
The film cuts to the younger Maya asking her grandmother how you’ll know if two lovers are meant to be, to which her grandmother answered with her anecdote of how she knew Maya’s grandfather was “the one” after a kiss under the pouring rain. Just when Maya, heartbroken and bitter, was about to give up on love, Andrew comes sweeping her off her feet. He’s dreamy and he calls her his princess—a typical girl’s fantasy. Once again, Maya has fallen for the idea of a true love.
True to her belief in the fantasy of true love and her grandmother’s benchmark, Maya waits under a cloudy sky hoping for rain to pour and give her the true love’s kiss that seals the deal. The rain doesn’t come in time for Maya, and right after the love affair turns sour almost as quickly as it developed, with Maya finding out that he was not the guy she thought he was all along. That makes two heartbreaks in a row for Maya, and two heartbreaks too much for a girl who strongly believes in the fantasy of true love.
In the last act, we meet Peter, a role that I would dare say was made perfectly for Carlo Aquino. Maya and Peter cross paths in the strangest of circumstances (under the pouring rain, no less), and develop a connection so genuine and so undeniable that even we, as an audience, begin to get our hopes up for a fairytale ending despite the film already denying us that twice. I was about ready to leave the cinema when Peter kissed Maya under the pouring rain in the exact same spot she had witnessed the wedding ceremony of the tikbalang, because that’s how her grandmother told us two lovers were meant to be and that was how any typical fairytale would end.
It did not take long for Irene Villamor to remind me that Ulan was not a fairytale, and would give me no such ending. Instead, it left me with an ending to reflect on, a statement to internalize, and a lesson.
An ending to reflect on
In the final scene, the rain pours and adult Maya sees her younger self and the two happily join hands and play together. This scene honestly took me a while to get, but when I look back on the rest of the film, it all ties together and make perfect sense. Maya in her adult years had learned to despise the rain, believing it had brought her all the bad fortune in her life. In contrast, her younger self had always been curious about it—always longing to play under it but was always forbidden by her grandmother. An older Maya playing under the rain is her returning to her childlike innocence and curiosity, long before she had associated it with the pain in her life. Regardless of the pain that has happened to her that may or may not have been directly related to the rain, in the end Maya still eventually chooses to view the rain as something to celebrate. It is Maya learning that love can be sweet as it is tragic, and the scene is her taking the joy that comes with the pain.
A statement to internalize
“Sabi nila, kung magmamahal ka, kailangan magtira ka para sa sarili mo. Pero naisip ko, hindi ko naman kailangan magtira eh. Dahil hindi naman ako mauubos.”Maya, Ulan (2019)
In the last few minutes of the film, Maya says, “Sabi nila, kung magmamahal ka, kailangan magtira ka para sa sarili mo. Pero naisip ko, hindi ko naman kailangan magtira eh. Dahil hindi naman ako mauubos.” Despite being something we already know and probably heard before, it just made more sense coming from the character of Maya. You can see it in the way that she always had a locket with photos for two, the types of stories that she liked to write, and how incapacitated she was at lost romance despite knowing deep inside it wasn’t really love in the first place—Maya always believed that romantic love would complete her. Despite the painful outcome, the film was able to end on a positive note because Maya learned that while she lost someone she loved, she did not lose a part of herself in the process.
You can blame it on the pressure to find “your other half” or the loneliness that creeps in when you’re at your weakest, but just like Maya, it is so easy to think you’re less complete without another person, and to think that it’s another person’s role in your life to complete you or fix you. When it was said that Maya loved Peter, it was at a point when she no longer wanted him as a form of nostalgia, as it was with Mark, or because he made her feel special and treated her like a princess, which stemmed from the need for validation, which she received from Andrew. We know Maya was able to love Peter was because at that point she was already complete in herself, and had more than enough love for herself that she was able give love to Peter through the outpour. There was no greater need for to feel wanted within Maya that Peter had to fill, and there was no longer a longing for love so dependent that broke her when she felt she had lost it before. And I believe that’s how love should be.
If I could summarize the lesson I took from Ulan in a statement, it would be this: “Love when you are not lacking.”