the discussions and debates on local indie films come from a place of uncertainty and spectatorship: who views these films, and therefore are we making them for those viewers? is the prevalence of sex and poverty and violence in the indie something that’s overly used to feed the first world’s need to validate themselves? after all to insist on seeing the bowels of third world Philippines and saying bravo bravo! could also mean yehey! they’re still as poor as we’d like to think!
and then there are stories that are about poverty with some violence and some sex, that just get out of the rut that too many indie films are in. Layang Bilanggo directed by Michael Angelo Dagñalan and written by him with Ma-an L. Asuncion, Melchor DF. Escarcha (Kuwentista Productions), is exactly this story, without it being too self-consciously pa-artist or pa-difficult. instead what it is becomes what an indie should be able to do: speak of the times in a way that deems it as important as the past and the future, in situations that might be cliché but which are handled with a new perspective and a different voice.
because on the one hand, it’s clear that we know of the ex-con story, yet we rarely speak of how corruption within the police allows for the probability that the ex-con is freed, kept under the radar, and used as a hitman. because on the one hand, we’ve seen the story of the ex-con father seeking the abandoned child, yet we don’t know of the probability that this child’s life is so affected by the palpable absence that abandonment creates, making a reunion just impossible.
in Layang Bilanggo this basic story has a layer of what is both funny and tragic about age and aging, within the spaces of a provincial home for the aged, where the exchanges between nurses and boarders are always truthfully painful, making fun as they do of the absurd situation(s) that aging creates, that those who think they haven’t aged actually subsist on. it’s difficult now to think of any movie or TV show that has dealt with senior citizenship in the way that Layang Bilanggo successfully did, where the conversations, the moments of distress and anger, the emotional rollercoaster that abandonment and loneliness wreaks, are all so real. if not in our faces, reminding us of our own inabilities and incapabilities, reminding us how much of ourselves is in the ways in which we let our old get old, our senior citizens deal with age by themselves.
having said this, it must be said too: Jaime Fabregas, Pocholo Montes, Pen Medina, outdo themselves in the roles of senior citizenship, where the witty repartee is layered with a whole lot of disgust and distress at the way(s) they’ve aged, and why they’re within the space they’re in, where friendships are tongue in cheek, where the end is dealt with as a matter of fact, and not as something that’s unsaid.
that later on it is the ex-Metrocom officer who helps out the ex-con, that later on, this friendship will be tested in the decision to be captured again, do not run away it is said, becomes one of the more touching moments in the film. soon after, we are faced with an ending we don’t like or want or expect, and yet seems to be the only way a movie like this could end, with redemption only in the way of death, only the way that the person who survives holds a gun to someone’s head, and runs away through the forests that are unfamiliar.
and on concrete lies the man who only wanted to be forgiven, more for the crime that is abandonment versus any other one that the law speaks of. down the street, an old man is reading what’s left of the one who could only be a father until the end. within the gates of the old people’s home, a daughter doesn’t know the truth just yet, and will die a couple of deaths upon finding out who her father is.
and right in front of the movie screen, as the strains from the Johnoy Danao original theme song began, it was difficult to hold back tears. because there is no redemption, there is no happy ending. all that there is, we realize, is a world where abandonment is truth but rarely spoken of, a space where love can only be possible given a blanket of lies, where fathers and daughters are unbound but aren’t free, and the freedom we seek isn’t about walls or limits, but about what we aren’t allowed to become given the past we cannot shake off, given the future that can only be uncertain.
and then we realize that maybe the point isn’t to forget, nor is it to be forgiven. the point is to live now, and know to look peace in the eye, and take it on, even when we have yet to think we deserve it. the universe has its own way of judging us worthy. and letting us free.
note number 1: Layang Bilanggo won the Cinema One Originals 2010 best picture and best screenplay, with its director winning best director and lead actor winning best actor. and yes, the redundancy is killing me. Miriam Quiambao deserves some praise for acting that was truthful, she seems to be over her learning curve. Pen Medina as lead actor here isn’t just the best, he outdoes himself too, requiring a whole lot of bad words that only the most admirable would know to be about being overwhelmed.
note number 2: the last day of the the Cinema One Originals 2010 film fest was on a non-working holiday (November 16), and the filled theaters for Third World Happy and Dagim were unexpected for someone like me who’s been watching in half-filled theaters for most of the festival. suffice it to say that i was happy for these indie movies, but sad that i didn’t get to watch both movies.
Tagged: 6th cinema one originals digital film festival, cinema one originals, Cinema One Originals 2010, cinema one originals review, independent cinema, independent films, indie cinema, indie film review, indie filmmaking, indie movies, Jaime Fabregas, Kuwentista Productions, Layang Bilanggo, Layang Bilanggo review, Ma-an L. Asuncion, Michael Angelo Dagñalan, Miriam Quiambao, Pen Medina, philippine independent cinema, philippine indie, Philippine indie films