- A Second Chance by Cathy Garcia-Molina
(Write-up to folllow)
- Tandem by King Palisoc
As soon as the helmets of two men riding a motorcycle are settled over their shoulders, the action begins in King Palisoc’s Tandem. The bike cruises along an almost empty area, looking for a prospect. One of them gets off and snatches the bag of the chosen victim, re-hops on the vehicle and off they dash to their safety. The two men are brothers Roman and Rex and they are among the riding-in-tandems who ply the busy streets of the city. This is the kernel by which the strands of Tandem intersect and further into its center is a scrutinization of their brotherhood. Roman is older and had languished behind bars so he is more cautious, especially because his wife is big with their baby. Rex is young and thirsty and gutsy; he wants explosions and quick bucks and fun. They are opposites in temperament and this friction in character is what will throb the film. Amid the crimes that thicken the film’s tone, there is undeniable bond and warmth between them. Theirs is a relationship that easily forgives and understands. And like all brothers do, they share things between them: drink beer together, ride on the same motorbike, and even share the same woman. Rex’s present girl is Roman’s past. This linkage is tried by corrupt police officials who capitalize on a botched heist. They are blackmailed into killing a high profile official who endangers the position of the two cops. In a defining scene after Roman failed to liquidate his target, Rex brings the outraged cops to where Roman and his family are. This is the film putting their relationship into litmus test. Past this rich exploration of relationship that is scarcely tackled in our films is the gradual intensification of the genre tone. It starts small and ends big, the hierarchy of obstructions the brothers have to deal with swells as it rises. A genre basic, yes, but done well. Tandem’s reach is richer than its size, the thrill thriller as they ride.
- Toto by John Paul Su
Only few minutes in and a dream is already crushed in John Paul Su’s debut film, Toto. The film starts with an excited Toto preparing to go to the US Embassy for a Visa application. Few hours later, he comes home rejected. We will witness this kind scenario several times in the film’s progression, with the young man consistently rising from his setbacks, his repeated rise and fall resembling a wave of unending struggles, all for that elusive American Dream. It is this unwavering determination of Toto that drives the film, the extent of what he is willing to do seems limitless it is surprising. “Will you marry me?” he proposes to an American guest of the hotel where he is working as bellhop, this after sensing the guest is gay and into him. He also makes an arrangement with another female guest, another American, who will bring him to America. Their lovemaking is hot, and this in spite of his current girlfriend who is his co-worker at the hotel, therefore she might just be in the next room. He agrees to shell out whopping ten thousand dollars to seal their deal, only that she is a con. He will go the extra mile even if it means putting the people around him in danger; the desperation is heartrending, but the treatment is not. It delivers the character study with admirable frivolity, you are torn between crying and laughing, the contrast between is what matters. How could one think of forging a passport before an Embassy? Of assembling random people whose physical combination is as lost as the United Nations basketball team and let them pose as a family? But Toto does; so we double check if the shortish man he hires as his father is Dagul. We get the point of John Paul Su’s comic touches: the bootleg sideline (to go with fake family and passport), the getup of Toto’s multo father (is that Bembol Roco or Jack Sparrow?), the soap opera whose title is a jab at our affinity for over-the-top tearjerkers, the Macarena dance number, Toto’s fanaticism of Tom Cruise, etc. They are a hyperbole to stress a point, and in this film, to sting. And we are not yet even talking of Su’s characters and storytelling.
Secondary characters here are not secondary, but are people. Toto’s girl Tessa is not prim and proper but she loves him, does she? A new and handsome co-worker arrives and we see her gravitate to him. She is easy and unfaithful, we detect. Later, during the film’s climax at the airport, Toto offers a proposal ring to her, but she refuses. “One at a time,” she says, surprising us. If she is materialistic, she would grab the ring, grab the opportunity, because, heck, her boy is going to America. America!!! But she is not, secure that if he really loves her, it can wait. By this time, the film already discloses the gender of the handsome newcomer earlier, who is now with a male lover. She has been faithful all along. See how Tessa is characterized and how red herring is used to push forward her story. Except for the paper-thin character of Eve Porter, that American woman, who is not American after all, who duped him, the rest of the secondary characters are well-attended as well. David, the American guest at the hotel is initially introduced as a typical gay, out to get every cute guy that comes his way, but he ends up as a sensible and respectable character. Yam, Toto’s friend and housemate, has his secrets too but he can be depended on as well. Toto is surrounded with realistic characters it makes him more real, his dreaming believable. So what makes him dream so hard? The film hits it when he goes back to his hometown, Tacloban, and we learn that his mother is living alone, hair gone because of stage 4 cancer, and life hard after the typhoon. During bedtime, Toto gives her a wig he bought earlier from a tiangge in the city, puts it over her head, and kisses her warmly and gently like one would a baby. He kisses her some more. That scene is tender. That kiss gives his motivations, and the magnanimity of his heart too, away.
- The Breakup Playlist by Dan Villegas
Dan Villegas’ The Breakup Playlist is a Star Cinema film, make no mistakes about it; and so we expect its tear-inducing flourishes that you could pick on. Piolo Pascual’s Gino is a lead vocalist of a rock band and he plays the pogi part well he could snatch your girlfriend’s heart away. He snatches both Sarah Geronimo and Trixie’s hearts too and in Trixie’s case, she lets him seize her away from the law school. Very Star Cinema so far, except that it also has gigs, jams, rock bands, music on the side. Trixie has that extraordinary pipe, and when she struts her stuff in a music camp, Gino, who is there as one of the mentors, is blown away. So he pursues her to his band, brings her to gigs where Yael, Ted, Sponge Cola, Sugarfree, Basti Artadi, Rocksteddy and, well, Jett Pangan (he plays as Gino’s band manager) reunite for a music event so she peels her eyes in awe, how could she not give in? Trixie enters into Gino’s personal life as a girlfriend and into his band, which he renames as Pencil Grip. So the film is littered with Pencil Grip’s Paano Ba Ang Magmahal and, occasionally, Eraserheads’ With A Smile and Itcyworms’ Akin Ka Na Lang. Pencil Grip surges through the music charts with Trixie in, her voice blaring in the airwaves habitually, until she becomes the band’s raison d’etre. Gino, now relegated to the side, tries to maneuver the band’s music away from its soul-laden lovelorn cries, which Trixie disagrees on, and when they come to a head, the band members side with Trixie, too. You see, The Breakup Playlist expands from its romcom genre to tackle on something darker: rivalry between lovers who work in the same industry. It records a wannabe’s entrance to the music industry and the film does the details right, from the music camp to gigs to parade of musicians and once she is in, the usual frictions between the band members. It is a meaty material for a usual Star Cinema factory output, Villegas delivering it with thought and creativity. In a scene, Gino hears up Trixie’s conditions about doing a jam except when it is her parents’ birthdays, hers, and when she is reviewing. When Trixie is done with her litany, Gino quickly slips in with, “Sa Friday ba birthday ng Papa mo? Ng Mama mo? Mo? Review?” It is a witty little repartee to tell a point without actually saying it while suffusing the scene with kilig touches. Another time when the relationship is on the rocks, Trixie, on her way home, chances Gino with a girl at the gate. Instead of doing a confrontation, Trixie instructs the cab driver to continue going on. Her reaction surprises us, in a good way, because it is refreshing to see a character in a romcom with sensibility above her shoulders. More scenes of this careful handling season the stretch and sure you can nitpick about that melodramatic turn on Gino’s sacrificial deed for Trixie and some genre excesses here and there, but the strengths, solid and abundant, can speak for the film itself.
- Water Lemon by Lem Lorca
Water Lemon is equally Lem Lorca’s piece and the writer’s, Lilit Reyes. Reyes pieces together Mauban’s select inhabitants with a man with Asperger’s, Lemon, at the center. Reyes does not connect them as crisscross them. Aside from Lemon’s mother, Pina, who is depressed from her husband’s passing, there is Bertha, a fanatical admirer of Lemon. The supervisor of the internet shop Lemon frequents is Maritess. Her grandfather is Lolo Ume, whom Lemon will get closer to in the course of the narrative. Aside from peopling Mauban with these representations, Reyes sketches Lemon with a character-study that goes deeper than an Aspergian’s skin-deep concerns. Lemon , true to his syndrome, mostly shuts off connections, and this sends her admirer Bertha hurtling to the nearby Sari-sari store for a drink. It could be a narrative flaw, what draws Bertha to Lemon, especially when other men more normal abound, but you forgive this shortcoming when she is there to characterize Lemon, to give Aspergians the identity and respect they usually are denied with. Lemon crawls on the job ladder even with a sharp mind and an abnormal eloquence. He dashes out the office door at 5 o’clock sharp, never mind if there are yet unfinished tasks, and this causes him his job. His eyes are trained not on the people near him but on his chatmate who is far away. She will give him his first heartbreak, and this happens after he gets fired from work, sending his ego further below. Water Lemon is an acute character study of a marginal social entity; and more. The internet shop supervisor Maritess is dead set on marrying a foreigner, because she wants out of Mauban. This sets the tone of the film’s second half, the characterization of the town. Some want exits, because other places seem more enticing. Few are trapped or are merely going with the flow: falling in love, getting dumped, then finding another and raising a family. Some die, others mourn. Despite these exits and deaths and even despite the people is the place. It will remain set; will see more generations to come. Lem Lorca executes Reyes’ elaboration and narrative with an effective serene pacing. His establishing shots of Mauban peppering throughout are mostly quiet portraiture. He situates his camera a step back, firmly static, just witnessing the unfolding, letting the material do the talking.
- Apocalypse Child by Mario Cornejo
Baler, Aurora, the location where the famed Apocalypse Now was shot, is where intersections are on boiling point, at least according to Mario Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child. Ford is a surfing instructor who threads life the way he surfs on the waves, that is, to anywhere they lead him. His father could have been Francis Ford Coppola. His girlfriend is Fiona, ebullient and freethinking, and his mother is Chona whom he calls by her first name, if that is any indication. When Rich, who is Ford’s childhood friend, and his fiancée, Serena, return to Baler because his father passed away, these five characters intertwine probably more than they should. The film examines their relationships with an onlooker’s curious eyes. Ford and Rich have a previous misunderstanding between them; the film skirts around what it is as merely suggest it. So their new meeting has an air of tentativeness than of a reunion. Chona’s relationship with son Ford is, you can call it, progressive and so now, it must have something to do with their age gap, which is narrower than a parent-child’s should, so they go more as siblings – or as friends? Chona had Ford when she was barely a teen. Ford’s relationship with his girl, Fiona, is smooth until his bestfriend’s fiancé comes. Apocalypse Child does not only close in on everyone’s associations it also strains them. Rich tries Ford by introducing his beautiful fiancé to him. And Ford falls for it, the asshole that he is, never mind that he crushes Fiona’s heart along the way. Rich retaliates by taking Ford’s mother, upping the ante. Thus relationships are both built and destroyed in Apocalypse Child, and Cornejo zooms in on them not only with a peeled eyes but also with a deft hand. During the film’s intimate scenes, the camera probes near to catch the intimacy and a disjointed, multiple perspective editing seams the bits, giving us immediacy and proximity. He skillfully reigns in the very first tension by having a character throw a glass to fragile wall, and letting another answer it with the same fire, the second glass smashing its target exactly the way the previous one did, tit for tat. This visual storytelling is what he employs throughout the narrative. And his drama is staged with understated economy, you get Fiona’s pain by the way she merely glances at her man on another woman’s side than on hers. The film is capably directed, effectively told and technically equipped you willingly forgive it for not offering something more substantive than the cracks it bares.
- Baka Siguro Yata by Joel Ferrer
How many of our films will dare set the first meeting of a prospective lovebirds inside a comfort room? And in awkward costumes at that? Unless you butt in with Gino and Trixie’s meeting in The Breakup Playlist, though it was outside, by the door. How about meeting your prospective brother-in-law in your sister’s bedroom and seeing him naked? The occasion of disclosing the news of pregnancy is generally a good news to a Filipino family, but in here, our hero gets an uninterrupted slaps from his parents instead. How come? Joel Ferrer seems resolved to thread the unbeaten path that he almost covers up for the steals he takes. A lad’s biggest concern is to get laid the soonest and the film follows this third strand with determined singularity it is almost larger than life in its conviction. This sensibility is not Filipino, and has actually been plying from a dozen foreign coming-of-age outings. But Joel Ferrer delivers them here with unapologetic gusto and hilarity that you keep chuckling and laughing and cursing, how could you forget that Jinno LSS-inducing “nakakainis” refrain. You giggle your head off you fail to see that Carlo is beaten two times over: his girlfriend of few years has dumped him, one, and, two, she dumped him for a girl, how double whammy is that? I do not buy that Carlo’s graduation from butch ex to a beautiful girlfriend has something to do with homo-hetero-sexual discourse because the film does not follow it up but in its place is Ferrer’s admirable deflations. Estranged couple do not hold grudge against each other as most do, but instead sneak out to make love, isn’t it unusual? Even the young love story here is not centered on tired sweet-nothings but on the urgency of sex and deflowering. And so is Carlo’s current normative on-going relationship, which is springing from a previous untruthful relationship. In other words, Ferrer repositions the audience’s vantage point to somewhere irregular so they see the unfamiliar terrain, and he slides this agenda, his depth, under uproarious wrappings you wonder if the ribbon on top is Mommy Dionesia.
- Balut Country by Paul Sta Ana
Jun is a musician who comes home to Candaba, Pampanga to sell the duck farm he inherited from his father, thus starts Paul Sta Ana’s Balut Country. He is indecisive, and to show it, Sta Ana keeps deferring Jun’s signing of the contract. And so we see Jun holding the unsigned sale deed from one scene to the next, and to perhaps tinge it with symbolism, the film has to let him accidently drop the papers in another scene. They are a bit unimaginative, the film’s ways. Another time, it hastily plucks Jun out of his way, tows him to Pateros to obviously give him – and, well, us – a rundown of duck industry 101. It is lazy in it its storytelling that you tend to magnify these misses, because otherwise the film is generally credible. Dado, the farm’s caretaker for a long time, senses the looming displacement, not that it is not obvious, mind you, so he tours the neighborhood to scavenge for the next available duck farm. As he goes, we see thousands of ducks from one farm to another, the entirety of the trip giving us a sense of the place that has thrived on this livestock for a living. Never mind that Dado ends up brooming the excrements of a pigsty away instead, for the lack of job availability. Balut Country does it right, how it splatters us with verity down to how eggs are appraised against the light to filter the good ones, thick shell and crackless, or to preheat; how a bunch is holed up in a sungka-looking baskets for incubation. We see Jun wake up one time to collect new laid eggs with Dado’s children, the ovals randomly scattered over the nesting backyard. The place is unkempt, like all farms are, its realness is right in our noses. The film threads its non-existent arc, which is its mere excuse, with facts in astonishing details and richness, we come out of the theater learned and experienced. It stands in spite of the narrative, thin and decorative, because its goals are somewhere else: to evoke place. And in a milieu as real as the duck farm, Jun arrives a confused man; he is torn between going with his fiancé to another country or to stay, between marrying her or not, between selling the farm or taking over. He starts uncertain and the film will change that over the course, sure. Predictable except that it is the getting there, the weighty fill between two points, the authenticity it brims with, the gravitas it has in spades, that matter.
- Sleepless by Prime Cruz
Prime Cruz’s debut feature, Sleepless, teases us. He presents to us a man and a woman and then he plays around our expectations. Gem, who is insomniac, finds graveyard shift job to fill in her waking hours at night. She is a call center agent. In comes Barry, a young lad of her age, and probably single. At this point, our expectations are predictable. The two will fall in love; we are so sure of this that we wonder if these automatic reflexes are a result of the conditioning from the countless romcoms that have been bombarded to us. And then the film discloses that Gem has a boyfriend and Barry has a son from an estranged relationship; our expectations are shattered. But then they continue a good friendship. Film digs deeper to show that both Gem and Barry are sad in their respective situations. And so we start pairing them again: they are better off with each other. We hope. This narrative push and pull carry on, constantly engaging us, toying with our perception and anticipation. It is always a step ahead of us but it never tips over like most romcoms do, which this film is not. The comedy here comes rare, and the romance is more a perception – audience’s – than an actuality. The film is therefore an antithesis to the romcoms, that it could be the genre’s deconstruction. In films, especially of this type, male and female leads can have relationship other than being lovers, it proposes. In not pushing Gem and Barry’s relationship further, the film leaves us with spaces we can fill in, and we fill them up with hope for their romance. When Barry bids goodbye at the airport we hope Gem stays planted where she is and hangs on, and we wish Barry turns back to defer the flight. A deconstruction that the film indeed is, this does not happen; but we continue hoping that someday, past the film’s curtain, Barry returns to the country, to her, and their suspended story picks up.
Somber mist is hovering over the film, where characters are either a willing mistress or a longing father. The clues in Gem’s case come in gradual doses: an absentee boyfriend, unanswered calls and texts, far-between meet-ups, a lone stroll in the park. We discern her predicament even before she stops jogging that day, after seeing her man in another woman’s arms, the child with them sealing them. But Gem knew, and she takes her rightful place away, holding back the tears. It is heartbreaking seeing her compose herself when she should be tearing apart. Barry witnesses Gem’s fall, but he too has his obstacles. Cruz treats the film’s sadness with controlled emotionality, his sensibilities are in the right place. That this all starts during lulls at night, when most of us are asleep seals his vision: good things – and films – can come from unexpected places, and gaps.
- Dayang Asu by Bor Ocampo
Government corruption in Bor Ocampo’s film debut, Dayang Asu, is a given that it is rendered here in sketches. Instead, the film zeroes in on the tentacles and how they wield power within their relegated range and how their own bit of network and mechanism parallel and mirror with that of the bigger layers above them. Peping is actually a mere mercenary in the scheme of things. He reports to the Mayor regularly and what he does here for him is – what else? – kill. The Mayor’s birthday is coming and he wants kalderetang aso, so Peping has to kill a dog (what were you thinking?) for this special request. What he does to accomplish this reveals the workings of a damaged system that perpetuates those in power, regardless of how limited the power is. When the seller refuses to sell a chosen dog to his men, Peping barges through the meandering alleyways to confront the owner. When he buys another pet dog, he dictates the price rather than the other way around. When his car bumps a parked jeepney at the back, he and his men browbeat the poor jeepney driver. The pettiness of this power display is the film’s foreshadowing of the bigger things to come. Against this microcosmic system is Tonton, Peping’s son, who is half in, fully aware of his surroundings. He represents for the half of the film’s thesis: that of a man who is not yet fully in but is trapped, whose option left is – what else? – the government. He is the majority of us, who make do with what is on the news on TV. Like us, he will be forced to accept the system and he will pull the trigger of a gun to drumbeat his entrance. What the film says is not new, yes – for what else is new? – but what Ocampo brings to the table is his own brand of sensibility, that is what makes this tick. His characters are not one-dimensional. We see Peping forcibly thrust his carnality into a helpless girl, sure, but we also see him baby his daughter with a cute little puppy. Tonton is both a snooping witness and a blind accessory. Even the dogs here have variety: the askals, the pets with ribbons, and the viand. Ocampo utilizes his points implicitly, impliedly, closing in more on ills of the limbs to reflect the symptoms of the body. And when he unleashes the viciousness, he layers it with the banal. How can you not appreciate the literalization of a dogged society by the rampant killing of dogs. Indeed, watching the film, how can you not compare yourself to kalderetang aso? Ocampo, in rolling down his litany, not once does he verbalize his points, his visuals and actions making up for the words that do not come, which what films should be. Dayang Asu revels in the grays and levels to smack us of the muscles that sway in our midst. The repetitive scenes of roadblocks, of lever pushing upward and pulling downward from the pivot of a security checkpoint is the film’s reminder of our brushes with the colossal authority.
- An Kubo sa Kawayanan by Alvin Yapan
Alvin Yapan’s An Kubo sa Kawayanan is basically about a provincial woman, Michelle, who lives alone, and her little hut smacked right in between the bamboo stalks. It is a thatched little dwelling with, what else?, bamboo walls, steps, floor and whatever. Nothing much happens aside from her calado embroidery and her stillness is once in a while tried by her boyfriend’s constant nagging. She should go with him to Qatar, he urges. Her privacy and the serenity of the place will be spoiled by the arrival of documentary filmmakers. If Lav Diaz’s films are grand and larger than life in their delivery, An Kubo sa Kawayanan is their polar opposite. This film revels in miniaturism that a beetle is given its own narrative fiber. And as if following it slowly crawl on a window stool is not enough, Yapan gives it its own highlight. A thread is gripping it around the pronotum, so it is not able to fly away. Its winding through infinite loop by its chain is its dramatic cry for the curtailed freedom to flutter away, and this momentous spotlight could earn for it a Best Cameo award, you bet. And how about the hut, virile and emotive, projecting jealousy as if it is its birthright? Its passionate foreplay with a sensuous woman of every man’s fantasy, while not novel, is heated enough it makes up for the void left by the rival now far. The nipa (?) leaves get to grope Mercedes Cabral’s thighs and her two abundances, and that is unfair. A footwear becomes the house’s accomplice, deliberately disappearing to give Michelle a cold shoulder. It takes guts and vision for Yapan to get the taken-for-granted their field day with much realism in a serious live action film. A mobile rings and we realize the story is, after all, situated in the current times; if the milieu initially appears to be prehistoric it is because the place is remote from the chaos of busy urban trappings. And even with such distance, it is not able to evade the feelers of globalization. But Michelle refuses to grab the opportunity for a greener life in Qatar with her boyfriend, and this could be Yapan’s valentine to nationalism. Or it could be his paean to ecology, taking care of the hut and its ‘inhabitants’ instead of leaving them to eventual destruction. What she values the most for not going away is unfortunately what camera people will destroy. A suggestive rape happens and even this has metaphorical layers you can count litany from. In other words, An Kubo Sa Kawayanan is so lyrical its meanings are a wellspring for a very simple narrative arc. It takes you to see things you previously do not see but are there all along.
- Imbisibol by Law Fajardo
The hodgepodge of samplings that Law Fajardo’s Imbisibol chooses over a variety of OFWs is telling enough: the Bilogs or paperless workers in Japan. These are the people who tiptoe on foreign soil and push their luck as the authorities inch closer. Manuel is an aging hosto whose previous customers are now striding past him for the younger men. He resorts to cleaning toilets and gambles for quicker bucks that, as clichés get, only buries him in deeper shit. Another, Benjie, prefers being away from home, from his wife and children, because in here, he is truer to himself: he is living in with his male lover. The third Bilog is Rodel, who accidently kills a co-worker, the incident exposing him and his predicament to the authorities. And the fourth character is not paperless, yes, because she is married to a Japanese, but she is renting out flats to Bilogs and she is thus caught between her husband’s insistence to throw them out or to be a compassionate kababayan. The concerns of all four characters, you see, are wide-ranging but aside from fringes they all make do in, what loom large over are the sadness and isolation that they have to endure; and Fajardo, to evoke this condition, situates them in an atmosphere that is foreign to the Philippines. The whiteness is all over, up on the rooftop and out shrouding the streets, that winter jackets have to be piled up to suppress the cold. People under such unbearable chill tend to cling to one another; that they do not have the family near them underscores the point. Even Rodel has to succumb to his end on the vastness of snows, his footprints giving him away to his chasers. And except for the climactic chasing, Fajardo paces the film deliberately, the serenity belies the turmoil underneath. Imbisibol is handsomely made in all its introspection, it could be a tribute to the few who are displaced and on the margins, except that it is not. It is instead a chronicle of the risks they brave.
- Taklub by Brillante Mendoza
Taklub plucks few subjects from thousands of tragedy survivors and dramatizes their collective plight to give us a picture of what transpired after the Yolanda rampage. Bebeth is trying to avail of the government’s free DNA test to find matches for her children’s dead bodies. Larry clings to religion, sometimes literally carrying the cross around the city, to cope up after the typhoon devoured his wife. Another, Erwin, goes through government bureaucracy to get a good roof for his siblings. They lost their parents, and their house, too, the remnants of which stand on the no-build zone. The film’s material has all the trappings of a melodrama except that Mendoza distantiates it to instead present an almost journalistic account of the situation. The coastal area was the most hit, where houses had been uniformly smashed down. The most susceptible to high tides and tsunami, the area has been closed for residency since. The inside of the city’s church is currently scattered with scaffoldings for its reconstruction. A camera pan catches a massive ship flung to the land, if that is any indication on how strong the winds were. Everywhere here is destruction with debris lording where our eyes fall, that the city’s topography can be rewritten. The whole place is an eyesore and while Mendoza does not dip in the controversy head-on he also does not shy away from it. It has been a year and his camera tells us nothing is happening yet. Survivors like Erwin are lost in the labyrinth of bureaucracy. The promised bunk houses are barely reliable and existent. The film is a visual exploration of obliteration and also a subtle confrontational display of filmmaker’s pangs. But as with the rest of the film, it gets the facts straight. NGOs deliver the goods to the area, providing donations, foods, reliefs. When a new typhoon looms near, their agents do a round-up to relocate the people to an astrodome. There are rebuilding programs like Tzu Chi Foundation’s Save-a-Coin. The length Taklub goes to give us authenticity is where it differs from the rest. We stick to its brutal honesty because there is truth in here than there is fiction. It has not only tamed the melodrama, it has also transcended it so that invented filaments to piece the factual fragments together become more believable. You understand Erwin’s excessive wrath upon learning that his roof has been stolen because we know where is his story culled from. Even the literalization of Larry’s carrying of the cross, a flourish if read on paper, is believable because we are assured it is based on true events. Even Chi, the adopted dog, is not a mere figment of filmmaker’s imagination.
This truthfulness is further bolstered by its goals. It gets to touch on government’s inefficiency and church’s unreliability, all big words. Tragedy here comes in three doses: water (typhoon), fire and land(slide). And the blow does not only aim at the physical and the emotional but also at the configuration of family unit: all Bebeth, Larry and Erwin lost were parents, spouse and children, constituting a deconstructed whole. Amid all these annihilations is the survivors’ mettle. They are beaten, yes, but they get by. A telling scene depicts their collective spirit. It is a beautiful evening. The moon up above is a proud ruler over a clear night sky. Then the film cuts to a POV shot: Erwin and his siblings are nestling the magnificent sight above from their makeshift home in a restricted area, with only the roof’s massive hole providing them the good view. Life is how you look at it.