Monday ∗ 13 Oct 2014

Failing the figurative, a review of Bwaya

Fiction based on real stories – and especially ones that are of recent events – can easily fall into the trap of being like a cheap TV reenactment that seeks to teach the public a lesson or two about daily living. It also has to deal with an audience that has seen the same story unfold via sensationalist media, the kind that asks a mother who has lost a daughter to a freak accident: Ano pong pakiramdam ninyo ngayon?

All these come into play in watching “Bwaya” (written and directed by Francis Xavier Pasion). What surprises is that it seems oblivious to this dynamic, interweaving the documentary with the fiction. So it has interviews with the parents of the girl eaten by the crocodile Lolong in the Agusan Marsh, as well as footage of the exhumation and burial of the girl’s body. This was paralleled with a fictionalized representation of the same story. 

Now this would’ve been fine were there a sense that this was a way to tell the story differently, or at least hold it up against the light so we might understand it better. But there was nothing here that reminded us we were learning of an aspect of this story for the first time. If that omniscient voice that spoke in myth was supposed to be the alternative storyteller here, then it was an utter failure. For what is that alternative voice when there is a dire lack of anything happening in the story itself?

Which is to say that not even an actress like Angeli Bayani (Divina) who was crying for most of this film, could stand for anything other than a hysterical mother who had lost a daughter to the marsh. Because she had nothing to latch on to, and whatever depth this character could have had was rendered moot by the existence of the real mother in the same narrative.

A narrative that barely had anything going for it. There was nothing here that we did not know already, or haven’t imagined to have happened, in relation to this story. Yet there was plenty this film could’ve still worked with. Say, establish the relationship the Manobos have with the marsh, and how their lives are dictated by their co-existence with crocodiles. Say, the lack of anyone to point a finger at in instances when someone’s attacked or killed by the crocodiles. The impossibility of simply asserting poverty as the reason why families like Divina’s remain living in the marsh, no matter its dangers.

Instead the movie sought to speak – at least if we are to look at the press releases about it – about the figurative crocodiles in this story and how they come into play in the face of a mother losing a daughter to a crocodile. Except that even this is not clearly dealt with in the play, where the figurative crocodile is not even established to exist really.

“Bwaya” for all grand declarations about artistry via its silences, missed the mark of contextualizing this narrative properly, and the connection between the real and figurative bwayas was not made at all. It was like watching a director trying to piece a story together, and then giving up halfway through. It was pretty for sure – that is the easiest paradox to be had given the dangers of this landscape after all – but it sure was devoid of anything else worth watching.

This movie of course won Best Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Musical Score in the New Breed Category of this year’s Cinemalaya. One wonders what we are teaching the younger filmmakers about what makes a good film.

Other CinemalayaX reviews published elsewhere:
On Hari Ng Tondo – Without The Gangster
On Children’s Show – Poverty Without Self-Pity
On Hustisya – No Justice
On CinemalayaX – The Year Of Creative Conceit

Posted in: arts and culture, kultura, pelikula, review

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