Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ang Babae Sa Likod Ng Mambabatok (Lauren Sevilla Faustino, Sineng Pambansa 2012)

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has been an ardent supporter of independent filmmakers and excellent local films for years. This year, it stepped up by organizing the first Inquirer Indie Bravo! Film Festival at Greenbelt 3, Makati City. For three days in early December, the festival held free public screenings of documentaries and short films, several of them award-winners.

Among the precious gems shown is Lauren Sevilla Faustino's Ang Babae sa Likod ng Mambabatok (The Woman Behind the Tattoo Artist). The documentary deals with a legendary, nonagenarian tattoo artist named Fang Od. Clients and tourists endure an arduous journey to seek the services of the famed tattoo artist in the highlands of Kalinga.

Seeing her in action makes for an uneasy moment. Fang Od creates batok (tattoo design) with a crude, traditional implement. A firm tapping of the two-inch pointed implement pierces the skin just enough for it to take in the ink. Every sharp thumping sound makes me squirm in my seat. That must be really painful. The amazing thing is once the ink are wiped off from the skin, we see the design in perfect symmetry and alignment. Fang Od's steady arms and eyesight are still in tip-top condition despite her old age.

Fang Od shares that in her tribe, a tattooed woman is highly desirable. (She used to have at least 36 suitors). A woman without a tattoo is not beautiful. We then see various tattoos on the body of Fang Od. There is a reptile design here and a design copied from Chinese porcelain there. Nearly all of the designs are perfectly aligned. However, there are a couple of tattoos that seem amateurish. The story behind those seemingly out-of-place tattoos outshine all of the romantic stories and plotlines conceived by the Star Cinema writing factory so far.

In response to a query on why she remained single all her life, she tells of someone outside her tribe who captured her heart. But, her father objected to her being married to an outsider. The young man then said to her, 'since we cannot be together, I'll tattoo my name on your forearm so you cannot forget me.' He did tattoo his name. Every day since, Fang Od sees his crudely tattooed name on her forearm and remembers him. Awwwww... Heartbreaking kilig stuff.

Thank you to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Raul C. Pangalangan, Bianca Kasilag, and co.), MyCinema, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines for sharing the engrossing documentary to the public on December 9, 2013. My mother and sister loved this documentary along with feature film Transit and the documentary film Ang Pagbabalik ng Bituin. Those films brought us, the audience, on a trip across the Philippines and beyond (Israel).

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