Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I America (Ivan Andrew Payawal, #Cinemalaya2016)

'I'm Mara,' says a 27-year old beauteous half-American and half-Pinay model, Erica Berry (Bela Padilla). 'No, you are Clara,' interjects her friend, Carol.

Mara and Clara are characters from a popular Filipino soap-opera starring Judy Ann Santos. They were exchanged at childbirth and grew up in different circumstances. Erica is compared to Clara because she still loves her American dad despite knowing belatedly that he is not her true father.

Erica is among legions of Amerasians still searching for their true fathers. Three months before meeting Carol, Erica thought she had found her true father, John Berry. While in the process of getting a passport, she learned that her real name is Erica Marie Perry. Problem arise when John Berry goes to her Olongapo house and asks her to live with him in California. Will she continue to be a Clara and pretend to be his daughter?

My favorite Cinemalaya 2016 film is I America. It is an entertaining, insightful, and bittersweet look at dysfunctional families of adult Amerasians in Zambales. Erica and Carol were just toddlers when the Philippine Senate kicked out the Subic Bay Naval Installation in 1991. They grew up without a father figure. These two pretty Amerasians have different reactions when faced finally with their father. Erica is more forgiving of her absentee father while Carol is shocked and angry.

I admire I America for showing the bitter legacy of American military bases. Olongapo and Subic have moved on and boasts of wonderful tourist spots. But, the raging pain felt by father-less Amerasians still seethes and affects their personalities.

Not all offsprings of inter-racial couples in Zambales are bitter, though. The Olongapo-born 27-year old Filipino athlete, Eric Cray, put up a good fight in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Several statuesque Amerasians join beauty contests and become successful models and celebrities. But for every confident Eric out there, there are dozens of Erica unable to hurdle the misery and loneliness of being father-less.

Erica is a beautiful lady but looks confused and lacks confidence. A major reason is her anger towards her prostitute mother, Rose. When Rose died of liver failure, Erica whispered her last request to her dead mother during the burial. The action somewhat eased the heavy burden from Erica's chest.

An important segment shows Erica poring at the contents of a tin can. Inside the can are pieces of paper containing the names of military servicemen who have sired children in Zambales. The tin can is like a Pandora's box bearing the last hope of Amerasians wishing to connect with their fathers. Erica squashes that hope. She burns the papers to ashes. From her negative experience of meeting her father, Erica knows that bridging Amerasians to their American fathers will be futile and will only bring back evil things unleashed by Pandora.

I America, just like Mercury Is Mine, shows how Filipinos are beholden to Caucasians and anything American. Erica gushes at the awesomeness of American zoos even if she haven't seen one. Teenage boy Mercury gets an automatic slot in a reality show about cooking because he is a novelty. Both films also feature young Filipinas yearning to be impregnated by Caucasians.

I America digs deeper on the subject of colonial mentality and racism by touching on an important plotline from Cinemalaya 2013 film David F. The latter dealt with Amerasians making a living in comedy bars and clubs. The stand-up comedians belt out funny lines but deep inside feel sad and empty. If some Filipinos want to apply whitening lotion on their skin, then I won't mind. But, if some Filipinos ostracize and belittle fellow countrymen based on their dark skin, then that is a shameful thing and should be severely admonished.

If fair-skinned Erica, despite being a looker, still feels timid and incomplete, then what more the negative feelings of father-less Amerasians with Afro-American features. Dark-skinned Balot and friends mask their sad plight with lively antics and witty punchlines. They are usually relegated to the sidelines as some sort of personal assistant, event photographer, driver, and butt of jokes. A crucial scene shows a bossy director ordering Balot to serve him some refreshments. Balot assertively objects and puts the director in his place.

I America boasts of Cinemalaya 2016's funniest segment (Grace before meal) and finest Cinemalaya final line so far. But, is it the best? No. The best film by a mile is Pamilya Ordinaryo.

I like I America for tackling important issues but there's a nagging question on my head. Why did it take more than two decades before Erica gets hold of a birth certificate showing her true name? Maybe Erica never did go to school or if she did, the school may be lax in its requirements. Maybe Erica was a prostitute in her younger years.

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