The family drama is … ahem … a Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) tradition, one that’s produced some interesting enough versions from the Tanging Ina series to Mano Po. And so it was no surprise that the purported / sold / imagined “change” via MMFF 2016 would deem it necessary to have a “family drama.”
It was “Kabisera.” And while it did fulfill all the requirements for a family drama, i.e., there was a family, and there was a crisis, and the family pulled together — sitting through the convoluted loop-holed narrative made one think it was particularly chosen not because of artistic merit but because of elements that might have rendered it relevant … or at least “more relevant” than the family movies of MMFFs past.
Apparently all it takes these days is to throw in some corrupt politics, play around with images of impunity, and then engage in a discussion about these as superficially as possible. Have I mentioned the caricature of a human rights Chief that was obviously a jab at De Lima? Yup, one that didn’t work at all.
That of course is getting ahead of the story, of the couple Tonying and Mercy and their kids, whose lives are inextricably intertwined with the activities of the father as Barangay Chairman in an unnamed town, and whose social class — as indicated by the large old home — also remained undefined throughout the film. This is important because at any other instance in which the family is outside as part of the bigger community, we are looking at small rural homes (even for Tonying’s brother). If this disparity between Tonying and the rest of the community was the point, then it was not one that was utilized at all by the narrative.
This would also be one of many silences that the film would keep unresolved and undiscussed, one of many layers of the story that it refused to even acknowledge, and which ultimately kept from cohesive, lucid storytelling. It was like offering the audience some complexity and then refusing to actually see these through to difficult conclusions.
As such “Kabisera” felt like it was going through the motions of telling this story of how one family unravels under the weight of secrets kept and unwavering trust, inexplicable violence and a toothless justice system, without actually getting into the implications of these for any of the characters, without actually showing how these affect the narrative’s unfolding. The effect was characters that had no reason for being, and who, in the end, were not grounded in anything at all, not even in their search for justice.
It didn’t help that the script itself was so inept that the dialogue did not provide an anchor — not for the characters’ actions, nor for what was happening in the film at any given point. For example, Mercy was a powerful character in the family and in her marriage, and yet for whatever reason, she blindly trusted her husband about all the money that he saw him handling. That she maintained this trust despite the threats to his life just seemed so out-of-character, so careless for a woman like Mercy. That she insisted he not take out his gun when they could hear their home had been invaded, made even less sense.
And why was it that even when Mercy had already gotten a lawyer, when there was already mileage on the case of her husband’s killing, why was the complexity of the case not discussed the way even WE are discussing extrajudicial killings at this point? Not once did Mercy say that if her husband was implicated in a crime (as they say he was), then he should’ve been arrested and brought to court. Not once was there talk about how the bank robbery that Tonying was implicated in actually happened while he was at work, with many witnesses to attest to this fact.
Sure, the point was to highlight how people can be framed-up and killed by the powerful: but which powerful were we talking about? Who was the enemy exactly? When there is no clarity about who is to blame for a death, there is no anchor in the search for justice either. And in the case of “Kabisera” it was this half-hearted, thoughtless attempt at relevance that to me almost made a mockery of the exercise of fighting for justice in the face of impunity.
Meanwhile though, there was family. In grief and at a loss about what to do, yet also barely having any conversations among themselves. One would think given the way the Mercy and Tonying kept a tight watch over their kids that there would be more conversations between parent and children, especially in a time of crisis. But save for that instance where Mercy imposes a new rule where the kids are required to tell her where they are at all times, there were no conversations about how the kids were feeling, what were they going through, what other struggles were there? In fact the kids themselves barely talked to each other, and at some point they all seemed like props of a film, the point of which was obviously Nora Aunor.
But no, there are some films that cannot be saved by the Superstar. In fact there are some films that one wishes Ate Guy didn’t do at all because it is not worthy of her talents, nor is it worthy of an audience.
“Kabisera” is one of those films.
Kabisera was directed by Real Florido and Arturo San Agustin, and writte by Real Florido.