Filipino realism with a insufficient dash of fiction, courtesy of Brillante Mendoza, who doesn’t let his fans down but has nothing new to share with his flock.
Living on an isolated Filipino island, in a village built on poles over the sea, the long-suffering inhabitants – who survive off fishing and weaving intricate, colorful rattan carpets – have to put with an endless stream of violence from dissidents and army alike, in a film that falls into step with the slow and steady rhythms of everyday life, observing everything with a documentary-like curiosity.
Mendoza employs pretty much the same approach with his main characters, middle-aged Bangas-An and his wife Shaleha, a loving Muslim couple, plagued with infertility, which is pretty ironic considering Shaleha is actually a midwife, helping local women deliver children of their own. One day, barren Shaleha suggests that her husband takes a second wife, someone younger who would be able to grace him with offspring. Finding him the perfect match won’t be easy and when she does, it’ll come at great cost.
Mendoza tells the story with calmness and sparsity, following his characters on their everyday lives with overzealous dedication (there’s a marriage scene that seems to last forever), as he reveals the nature of their relationships through their quiet tenderness.
But despite the solid performances – especially by Nora Aunor who’s a real legend in Filipino cinema – the story is too flimsy to hold your interest, as Mendoza films the locals with the persistence of an ethnologist, documenting a world that seems to belong to a parallel universe where time is not of the essence.
The final climax does make an impression but it comes too late and does too little to support the film, at a point where most viewers’ stamina has already waned and their interest faded, along with their initial resolve not to abandon the theater until the movie’s over!
Check out the trailer below: