There was something fulfilling about Ded na si Lolo, the second installment of the Sine Direk project of the Director’s Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI). Written and directed by Soxie Topacio, it began by establishing the kind of noise and screaming – and melodrama – that is true for the majority of communities in this country, the kind that we rarely see truthfully represented on TV and the movies, for fear that it will give us a sense of our REAL conditions as a nation.
It is after all, much more enjoyable to imagine that we all live in clean subdivisions and villages where quiet is celebrated, a mall is a heartbeat away, and love our only problem.
But Ded na si Lolo presents us with a truth that is difficult to ignore, because it is so familiar. The late great Ishmael Bernal used to say that a movie must create a world, must be able to show an audience the context of what are the smaller stories that we deem important. This need for context, for community, is something that very few contemporary directors – both indie and commercial – actually deal with. A love story’s main protagonists can just focus on their love and hate, without showing the audience why exactly they react the way they do to each other, and to the world in general. Where do they come from? What context informs these characterizations? These are things that have, since Bernal, been deemed irrelevant, and made silent.
We are not one to deal with social class after all for fear that we might misrepresent each other. Over-represent ourselves.
But Topacio dives into this head-on, and how! In Ded na si Lolo, it is clear that the context is social class, not of the slums of the country per se, but of the more educated and financially able of the lower class. The ones who have a karinderya in the palengke, children in the public school, the ones who keep lowly jobs as carpenters, or are actually bums, and the ones who have one rich relative to count on – that sister who then feels she has a right to dictate the lives of her poorer relations.
Ded Na Si Lolo is the story of a family that deals with each other in the face of the death of their patriarch, and the realization that they are all the same – melodramatic and fainting – but also that they are so different. The dynamic among the three sisters is classic Filipino: one feels neglected, the other is treated special, the youngest just wants everyone to get along. An eldest brother is the most removed and disempowered by the women in his family, and yet it is only he who knows of his parents’ true story, which unleashes shame and regret – over old issues of favoritism and anger – in the three girls.
But more than the secrets of the father slowly being revealed, it is the silences that this movie deals with despite all the noise that makes it extraordinary to watch. Its ability to deal with the unsaid is its subtlety and beauty: the distance the gay brother had kept, and his righteousness upon his return home; the acceptance and understanding he receives even from the most critical of siblings, and even when a sister refuses to admit her own son to be gay; the rituals of death and mourning that have become absurd but remain endearing; the reality of a wake as business, as a way of making ends meet.
Ded Na Si Lolo was also not wanting in good actors. Roderick Paulate as the gay brother is priceless here – it’s almost as if he’s undoing all his other gay portrayals in the 80s and 90s. But maybe this has more to do with the script as well, which puts the gay persona in a position of power from the beginning, as independent and distinct from his family, which allows him to refuse disempowerment as well. With other actors Elizabeth Oropesa, Gina Alajar and Manilyn Reynes as the three sisters, and Dick Israel as the older brother, this movie could do nothing but fly.
Which it does, without sacrificing honesty for the sake of comedy. In this sense it is impossible to ignore. Because while Ded Na Si Lolo’s take on rituals maybe that of fodder for comedy, it is also precisely this that allows for the silences to be even more glaringly real. In truth, it barely needed the perspective of the little boy grandchild of the dead grandfather (BJ Forbes) to pinpoint the silent in the midst of the noise. The movie was after all, already dealing with the silences above the din.
It is simply enough a story that deals with the drama that exists in our impoverished communities, and yet Ded Na Si Lolo also points to the fact that it is those of us who don’t live there, who see it as overly dramatic – and funny. And maybe this is the movie’s most successful silence after all: the reminder that in a third world country such as ours, laughter is always based on the saddest of truths.