Wednesday ∗ 17 Nov 2010

the saddest of dreams in Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria

on the surface, there isn’t much to deal with in the movie Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria written and directed by Remton Siega Zuasola (Panumduman Pictures). it is the story of Terya and her family’s struggle with her impending departure for Germany to marry an old man found through a mail-order bride service in her province of Cebu. the struggle begins and ends in Olango Island where she and her family live, one of those islands that’s removed from the cities that are familiar to us from Manila, a space that reminded me of Cuyo Palawan in the indie Ploning.  we see this stretch of space, with idle land and waters as two things: on the one hand the place of a rut, the rut that Terya’s mother speaks of; on the other, the space of possibility — surrounded by waters there is reason to leave, go with the tide, let it bring you elsewhere.

but Terya didn’t want to leave. the story begins with Terya missing, pretend-drowning in water, or maybe really wanting to drown herself, and her mother screaming at her father for having lost her. the father meanwhile is a funny guy, cracking jokes but also making fun of his wife, in the midst of the crisis that was in front of them, the one that involves the daughter who just refused to eat, refused to speak, refused refused refused.

save for showing tenderness and love for the younger sister, the one who didn’t know what was going on for most of the movie, but turned out to be crucial. save for showing compassion and friendship for the crazy man of the town, the one who was the literal crazy in the midst of the Baliw-Baliw Festival that the town was celebrating with, what else, but a bunch of crazy boys making like they’re pregnant women.

in the midst of this, Terya and her family kept on walking walking walking. the beauty of this movie lies in the fact that we don’t even realize how far they’ve walked, or how long. the point being this: Terya had walked from saying no to leaving, to saying yes. she had walked from the space that was familiar, to one that was unfamiliar and scary. she had walked from what was hers, to what she did not know.

in the course of this walk Terya meets up with the boy she loved and who loved her back. she thought of going off to elope, and then backs out: the town wants to talk to her, wants to say goodbye. she’s leaving, she’s one of them, and she’s leaving to become somebody else. her parents look for her and find her, but do not know her. the recruiter thinks she’s like every other girl who’s ready to leave, ready to become rich and send her family money. she doesn’t realize Terya can walk with no slippers, and can walk in her mother’s slippers, as her mother walks barefoot, hot concrete notwithstanding.

this heat was something that the visitor would complain about. but Terya and her family took it as default. on screen, the heat translates to an unbelievable brightness, as if we are being made to see this stark reality of making our young women’s bodies an export product, as if we are being made to see this spotlight on what is a sad sad dream of leaving. as if we are being challenged with its absurdity, if not its insanity.

because there is a dreamlike quality to this the story of Terya. the camera moves with the walking, moves with the people whose roles are important and relevant to Terya’s leaving, with the community small and impoverished and “crazy” as it was as they walked through it. the camera is always in the people’s faces, or highlights a group dynamic. the discomforts within the family, the refusal to deal with the recruiter, the need for Terya to stand with an old friend from school and reckon with both past and future in the face of her present, all telling of the kind of life she was to live, she was to leave.

when Terya finally gets on that boat that was to bring her to the city then to Germany, she is sent off by family, by a friend who’s just passing through, by a cousin who’s done it before and wants her to know it will be hard. and the town’s crazy sends her off, scaring the recruiter who stands for everything that’s horrid about the business of sending our people elsewhere. Terya is made to look at her small provincial town as the boat floats away, as they are all forced to see her leave.

and when the little sister looks to her ate with only the innocent sadness that the young can have, what could only become sadder is the mother telling her to grow up quickly so she can leave, too. and then you know that the mother’s dream, the family’s dream, that which Terya decided to fulfill as her dream, is the whole town’s dream.

it’s the saddest of dreams that we’ve come to think right and just, even when what it actually is, is tragic. and in Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria we are reminded of all this, without being all about poverty and oppression, because it actually also is ultimately about dreams. that one that’s about leaving to live and sacrificing self to survive. this movie reminds us that this is a dream we cannot begrudge the dreamer, a dream we cannot judge. and there is also our tragic existence as the ones who watch it happen.

Posted in: kawomenan, kultura, pelikula, review

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