Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Huling Balyan ng Buhi (2006, Sherad Anthony Sanchez)

The southern Philippine island of Mindanao is getting lots of bad press these days. The entire nation still have not recovered from the shocking massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, and days later, we also have to deal with the hostage-taking of 75 people in Agusan del Sur and the escape of 31 inmates in Basilan.

Violence in Mindanao is also getting ample screen time with several feature films and Cinemalaya short films such as Angan-Angan and Latus dealing with the topic. The award-winning Engkwentro, filmed in Metro Manila, alludes to the death squad of Davao City. Another film on desaparecidos and extra-judicial killings in the city is Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s experimental film Imburnal.

Davao-born director Sanchez came to prominence with his debut film Huling Balyan ng Buhi (Woven Stories of the Other). He utilized an unconventional way of essaying the effects of violence on the people of Mindanao. Two narratives converge but one narrative seems to be an allegory. This extraordinary film specifically deals with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-led rebellion. It tells the intertwining stories of people wounded by the armed conflict.

An elderly babaylan wakes up to find stigmata in her arms. She struggles to find her place in a world transformed by modernization and wrecked by rebellion. The likes of her is no longer given the honor and respect accorded to them in the old days. Long before the coming of the Spaniards in the Philippines, a babaylan is a well-respected priestess and healer. Spanish colonialism marginalized the female babaylans. The latter-day surviving babaylan gets no respect as she tries to fend off a horny teenager who eyes her as a sex object. The soldiers make fun of her singing.

A young girl and her brother scour the forest for their parents. They probably symbolize the children orphaned by the rebellion in Mindanao. The verdant scenes in the forest highlight the excellent cinematography.

A member of the New People’s Army (NPA) accidentally kills a comrade. He hastily leaves their camp and crosses over to the camp of the government soldiers. He is not treated as an enemy. He later jams with the soldiers on a couple of videoke songs. Music as a unifying element was folk group Asin’s suggestion on bridging the gap between opposing armed forces.

In the film, a comrade teaches her colleagues that the NPA does not treat a government soldier as an enemy. There are three enemies of the group: imperialism, bureaucrat-capitalism, and feudalism. The female comrade then mentions two of the nation’s abhorrent feudal oligarchs, the Aboitizes and the Lopezes.

Lopezes?!? Aren’t they connected with the Cinema One channel? Isn’t Cinema One the group which gave seed money for independent filmmakers? Isn’t filmmaker Sanchez one of those given seed money? Yes, Sanchez was, and still is, a beneficiary of the despised feudal lords, the Lopezes. Last year, he was a winning finalist for the poetic film Imburnal. This year, he was the main creative consultant to finalists of the Cinema One Originals Digital Movie Festival 2009.

Sanchez is one of the more courageous independent filmmakers out there. I’m eagerly awaiting his third film. It will probably tackle once more issue/s in Mindanao. Meanwhile, if you’re brave enough to try out unconventional films, then watch his feature films Huling Balyan sa Buhi and Imburnal. Check out the first film and if you sort of like it, then try out the more experimental Imburnal. Graphic images of poverty and hopelessness from the latter film will leave you scarred for life.

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