Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hiblang Abo (Ralston Jover, #Cinemalaya2016)

'We live in a home for the aged.'

My uncle shared a funny experience of his balikbayan wife and her three equally married sisters in a restaurant. All four women showed their senior citizen cards to avail of discounts. The waiter noticed that all four cards bear the same address in Manila but the surnames are all different. My aunt broke the ice by joking that all of them are staying in a home for the aged instead of saying that they really live in their old ancestral house.

Jokes and laughter.

That's how we usually deal with the subject of home for the aged. It seldom crops up in family discussions. From a cultural viewpoint, home for the aged is taboo subject. Resident elders at homes for the aged are seen as being abandoned and rejected by their uncaring, heartless family members. Or, from another view, the elders deserved to be there because they have done bad things that caused their estrangement from their families.

Either way, the elders are separated from their family members. Loneliness is the main problem of these residents.

Hiblang Abo deals with four abandoned elders in an institution. Huse, Sotero, Blas, and Pedro are residents of Bahay ni Juan. They are the Fab Four in that community of senior citizens. They are the most popular able-bodied residents. They are the ones always interviewed by visiting college students.

An amusing scene shows Pedro (Nanding Josef) running away from a nosey student. He is shocked to hear personal queries from the female youngster. The elderly group do talk about racy stuff but only among themselves.

Huse (Lou Veloso) is the romantic idol of his three companions. He is paired with Rosa, a fellow resident. The group had a big laugh over Rosa's pilfering of shorts of Huse.

The towering Blas (Leo Rialp) is admired for his bombastic speeches. He is a former union leader fighting for improved working conditions and expanded benefits for employees.

Sotero (Jun Urbano) longs to see his daughter. He packs his belongings and acts as if leaving the place. His three roommates ignore him and urge him to go to bed.

Sotero later realizes that they have a fairly good life there after all. They eat three times a day. They have a decent room to sleep in. They have regular medical check-ups and free doctor consultations.

Of course, there are some things they carp about. Blas finds the food bland. He also gets annoyed with Sotero's alleged sightings of his daughter. 

With lots of idle time, several residents daydream or reminisce about the past. Pedro recollects negative experiences such as his time as a vagabond. Huse hates waiting the most. He is resigned to face death.

They are at their happiest when they receive visitors. They get to talk to other people besides their friends. They value visits from students and researchers. But, the only regular visitor to the institution is death.

The film Hiblang Abo is an almost solid adaptation of Rene Villanueva's award-winning play of the same name. Most of the dialogues are retained in the film. However, there are artistic inputs by the filmmakers that radically alter the play's focus on alienation and resignation to death.

The film's emphasis on deception and lying by the residents effectively cut my empathetic connection with the elders. Why will I feel pity for liars? During the medical consultation scene, the resident doctor states that the elders are liars. That crucial line about liars is a new addition and was never uttered in the play.

A flashback scene reveals that Huse is not the gigolo he is bruited to be. He is a homosexual abandoned by his family, and later by his lover. Is he feigning interest in Rosa to hide his past? This duplicity by Huse, a new addition for the film as well, affected my reading of his narration. I'm no longer sure what is true in the things he says.

The best film scene for me shows the elders in their brightly lit room. The sound of a switch being turned off bridges the room scene to a shot of the Bahay ni Juan building at nighttime. The split-second transition mirrors the fleeting lives of the residents. Within a span of three days, three deaths occur in the institution.

The last scene shows a lone elder in the room. It is just a matter of days or probably hours before the show curtain falls on him, too.

Hiblang Abo was shot at the Anawim Home for the Aged in Rizal. An earlier film, Layang Bilanggo, dealing also with the abandoned elderly, was shot in the same compound at Rizal. Both films boast of wonderful performances by their elderly cast. Pen Medina won as Best Actor at the Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival. The four leads of Hiblang Abo shared the Best Supporting Actor award at the Cinemalaya 2016 Film Festival.

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