Davao: city of superlatives

Here’s what you learn when you go to Davao just to admire eagles.

The much-touted piece of trivia that Davao City is the largest city in the country always had me imagining an urban jungle whose sprawl surpasses that of Metro Manila. That idea excited me, in a dubious capacity as a ‘city explorer’, but at the same time it worried my conscience, because the congestion of Manila is terrible for a myriad reasons, none of which would be pleasing to see replicated somewhere else in our archipelago.

It was both a delight and a disappointment then to realize that the nominal vastness of Davao is nothing like that of Manila’s. Delight because, as a tour guide in Museo Dabawenyo dutifully pointed out, more than eighty percent of Davao City’s territory is in fact rural—sparsely populated, fresh, green. And the city government intends to keep most of it that way; there were mentions of development plans and city ordinances intended to limit urbanization (or, euphemistically, ‘development’) of the city’s greener districts. Coming from Manila, it’s certainly refreshing to find a major city government in the country caring, or at least affecting a concern for, nature. (Only time will tell if Davao will stay pro-environment, or be tempted by unsustainable prosperity.)

On the other hand, the actual size of urban Davao means that there isn’t as much for me to see around in the way of man-made environments, i.e. city architecture. Downtown Davao, the blocks surrounding the city hall, is a blend of the weariness of Manila’s Quiapo and the sleepiness of my hometown, Malabon. Davao City’s growth so far has definitely been horizontal rather than vertical—Marco Polo Hotel is the only visibly high-rise structure in the downtown area, and serves suitably as a compass if you feel like wandering around.

Photo of old buildings located along San Pedro St. in downtown Davao City.
Buildings along San Pedro St. in downtown Davao City.

As to why the city’s official boundaries remain so expansive is still unknown to me. The size is absurd when compared to the neighboring territories: Davao City is larger than the rest of the province of Davao del Sur combined. Wouldn’t it be somehow more efficient and effective for governance if the territory were to be chopped up into several cities and municipalities? I can’t be sure, I’m not some public policy expert. I’m guessing that local legislators and executives want to retain the ‘largest city’ title for the vague pride and prestige of a superlative. Competing for the largest, biggest, longest whatever, no matter how Guinness World Records-silly it becomes, is a Filipino hobby after all.

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Review: Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (1983, restored 2016) by Danny Zialcita

The newly-restored classic proves that we have been fascinated with romance-dramas about infidelity for so long now.

Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi (literally, the moon is mad for the night is too long) is one of the latest products of ABS-CBN’s rather important project of restoring old Filipino films. The 1983 movie by Danny Zialcita was digitally scanned, restored and remastered, and the result is a quality picture, now prepared to entertain a contemporary audience.

The fact of restoration provokes us to think of the film in two ways: on its own, as an isolated film product; or with regards to its age, as it is now effectively a historical record.

Entertaining, if questionable

Note: this section shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

The most salient feature of Nagalit Ang Buwan is its overflowing plot. It is not necessarily a surplus of plot, because the length of the story and the degree of convolution is justified in the end. But the story, in its totality, is nevertheless too lengthy, perhaps demanding a little more than the average moviegoer’s endurance.

Fortunately, the movie is funny. A representative from the ABS-CBN restoration team remarked before the screening that this film will certainly be enjoyed by those who love memes. Indeed, Nagalit Ang Buwan is packed with so much wit and biting dialogue, that if social media had only existed in the 1980s, numerous lines from it would have doubtless gone viral.

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2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (Petersen Vargas, 2016): confronting nature and nations

The power of nature and the past of a nation lurk behind this story about the volatilities of youth.

It is the late 1990s in the province of Pampanga. Several years have passed since the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo that buried so many of the province’s towns under massive volumes of debris. The volcanic material combine with rainwater from perennial typhoons to produce lahar; the government builds the Megadike in an attempt to contain its destructive power.

Meanwhile, American military forces have recently evacuated the bases in Clark air field and nearby Subic Bay, partly as a result of the Pinatubo disaster, and partly as a result of political decisions by a nation asserting its sovereignty.

This is the backdrop of 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, though the film obscures the consequences of its setting behind blithe cinematography, frames color-graded to a fresh and hopeful palette. Even the aspect ratio is an unusual 5:4. The combined visual effect evokes the nostalgia of old Kodak photos—a nostalgia that tends to summon simple, happy recollections while conveniently forgetting painful, complicated memories.

Petersen Vargas, in a limited résumé consisting of such shorts as Geography Lessons and the music video for BP Valenzuela’s Steady, has already demonstrated a distinct style before working on 2 Cool. Sometimes, as with Steady, he paints a mood through the cinematic equivalent of sweet nothings—stylized, mesmerizing visuals with no particular statements. Sometimes, as with this film, his first full-length work, he maximizes cinematic language in telling his story, while still infusing it with his unique gaze. Combine this directorial reputation with young actors capable of competent, convincing performances, and we have a compelling film in our hands.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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Kusina (2016): intimate yet epic

Kusina is familiar yet fresh, like a favorite childhood dish served with a spectacular new recipe.

Kusina (Her Kitchen) is a film that focuses on the sources of warmth at home: physically, the kitchen, with its fire and the hot meals produced from it; but also figuratively, a mother, whose traditional domain it is to nourish care and affection from the kitchen, where she learns to live and love.

It is a wonder that Filipinos are gifted only now with such an important work of art. Our society, after all, values dishes and dining more than most cultures. Why else would our native language tell us that the liver, and not the heart, is the true seat of affection?

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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Dagsin (2016): a weakened force

Dagsin has a strong premise, but technical distractions dampen its overall impact.

Gravity, in the physical sciences, is the weakest of the fundamental forces. In contrast with electromagnetism and the nuclear forces, gravity has little influence over the form and life of our immediate environments. This irrelevance is only a matter of perspective, however, because if we take the wider view, gravity is in fact the most dominant physical force, being accountable for the shape and destinies of planets, galaxies, and the universe itself.

Dagsin (Gravity), the film, is in some ways a reflection of this contradiction.

Consider the promises it makes: from the synopsis, it teases a philosophical crisis for a man whose beloved wife has just died; in the trailer, it dangles scenes with rich American colonial-era visuals; and for the premise, it draws us in with the excitement of a “Pandora’s Box of secrets” unleashed when a character’s diary is opened. Unfortunately for viewers expecting much from these attractions, Dagsin delivers weakly, and its center of gravity is diffused by an order of magnitude.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

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