Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (2011, Mes de Guzman)

A rare trip to my hometown Bayombong, capital of Nueva Vizcaya, made me appreciate the realism of Mes de Guzman's award-winning film Of Skies and Earth. I saw firsthand the majestic beauty of cloud-capped mountain ranges. It seems heavenly to anyone gazing from afar. But, as one gets up close one sees that not all is tranquil up there. Roads ravaged by storms and torrential rains will add hours and sometimes days to your travel time. Heck, a newspaper even labeled Nueva Vizcaya as the ‘bad roads capital of the Philippines.’

Life in the highlands becomes grey and muddy with the onset of the rainy season. Groups of indigenous people complain about the effect of bad roads on the sales of their farm products and the provision of much-needed services. Not much work is required during this wet period. 

Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa is set during such bleak economic period. A pair of kids, Rodolfo aka Yoyong and younger brother Poklat, descend to Bayombong and adjoining municipalities to earn some money. They take shelter in an abandoned house along with two boys, Uding and Boying. The four kids do various odd jobs.

The best scenes show the kids at play or just plainly conversing with one another. They remind me of my childhood experiences and the stories told by our elders. One such story I’ve heard during my recent trip was about how my aunts and their playmates would nonchalantly shoo away floating feces during their swimming escapades. Ilocanos also has this habit of scaring each through ghost stories. The slaughterhouse manager is scared shitless because of the kids’ story about vengeful porcine spirits.

A most memorable scene from the film shows Yoyong and Uding ambushing a young lad. Instead of a fist fight, we see Yoyong meekly apologizing to his fellow teenager Adoy. The four kids may have some mean streak in them but they do have good hearts. All they need is some guidance and probably more education.

As seen in the film, services 
in the province are well provided in the lowlands but not so in the highlands. A team of police arrives immediately at a crime scene. A truckload of firemen responds promptly to a fire alarm. The manager of the slaughterhouse worries about the possibility of a random inspection by the town mayor. The residents of the highlands are the ones getting the short end of the stick.

Director Mes de Guzman gained prominence with his pro-education film debut Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong. He once again highlights the importance of education. Yoyong is barely literate. Lack of accessible education must have been the likely culprit. A few reading lessons turned the young man into a loving person. A few more years of formal education would have transformed Yoyong into a better, caring person.

The final scene shows how the bleak, grey lives of the kids turn into a colorful albeit short-lived existence. Heaven for them is a bountiful harvest. But, who will survive to attain that divine promise?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ka Oryang (2011, Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena)

Among the 10 films from the Cinema One Originals Festival 2011, Sari Lluch Dalena’s film Ka Oryang was the only one to get a perfect 10 on my scorecard. It was my bet for the Audience Choice award, which eventually went to Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay. For those wondering about that mysterious citation, the award was chosen by a group of viewers privileged to see all 10 entries way before the gala premieres at Shangri-La Cineplex. (Salamat nga po pala sa Cinema One team para sa mga libreng screenings at pagkain).

The Martial Law film may not have been popular enough to win that certain award but it was spectacular enough to nab the Best Picture award handed out by the festival jury. Right off the bat, Ka Oryang grabs the viewer’s attention with its lean, jugular black-and-white depiction of the Diliman Commune at the University of the Philippines (UP). The crisp powerful images (including that of a female Oblation) and chilling soundscape (e.g. piercing banshee wails of the students) send shivers to my bones. I’m moved and teary-eyed as I recall the heroism of students and the sacrifices of young martyrs during the seventies. Those were the years of rage against the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos.

An apathetic student named Gregoria de la Cruz (Alessandra de Rossi) witnesses the brutal suppression of legitimate dissent during the First Quarter Storm. A bloodied acquaintance of hers lies dying in front of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Fast forward to the mid-1970s, Gregoria, now a dedicated rural doctor, tends to a bloodied comrade of Ka Noli (Joem Bascon). She asks questions about Ka Noli’s work with the underground movement. Even though she has seen first-hand the abuses by the minions of Marcos, she remains apolitical and just serves the people in her own unique way. She is not unlike real-life rural doctor Bobby de la Paz who treated sick people no matter what their political affiliations are. De la Paz was eventually gunned down at his clinic in Samar because of rumors suspecting him to be a communist or with links to the New People’s Army (NPA). Aside from de la Paz, young martyr Ma. Lorena Barros is another peg for the character of Gregoria. Barros was a UP student who joined the armed guerrilla revolution. She was a beautiful amazon who rose to the ranks of the rebels.

Gregoria’s main reason for joining the rebels is not clearly delineated. (This is not a weakness of the film for it is similar to the case of slain student leader Edjop, who mysteriously shunned his privileged background to take up arms.) It must have been love or it must have been belated awakening to the sufferings of the Filipino people. Or it could be a whole lot of other reasons.

Most likely, one of the reasons is a person who makes an appearance in the film. A surprising documentary footage shows President Ferdinand Marcos and family hobnobbing with and charming the socks off of Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Marcos has often been cited as the number one recruiter for communists in the Philippines. Widespread human rights abuses during the Marcos period pushed people to join the revolutionary movement. The black-and-white footage is somewhat apt then. Communist leader Zedong meets the number one recruiter of Reds in the Philippines.

Gregoria is just one of the countless emboldened Filipino women, inspired by Katipuneras such as Ka Oriang de Jesus, who fought for their rights and the rights of their countrymen. She meets other women warriors in prison after her arrest.

Director/scriptwriter Dalena presents harrowing experiences of these female political prisoners. A nude female recruiter for the NPA is tortured atop a block of ice. A pregnant detainee ends up being a punch bag. A mother is shot point-blank in front of her kid. Most of these tales are said to be based on real-life experiences of Martial Law victims.

Ka Oryang is a tribute to those young people who gave up their lives fighting the dark forces of Marcos. It is an important film for it serves as a reminder to a dark, grim period in the history of the Philippines. There have been high-profile attempts to portray the Marcos era as mostly a positive period for the country. Well, this film debunks that revisionist image. Ka Oriang de Jesus had some words for people who twist history for vested interests. The lakambini of the Katipunan said ‘fear history, for it respects no secrets.’