Like the haribon, the film is graceful, breathtaking, and powerful.
The haribon—the “king bird”, the Philippine eagle—is an apex predator. It perches atop the food chain, over the forest ranges where it reigns. It is a hunter that is itself not hunted by any other creature—until humans came along. Birdshot is a film whose story precipitates from a young girl’s encounter with a haribon, and its consequences that play upon roles of predators and prey, of kings and pawns.
Like the eagle that inspires the film, Birdshot is a refined, seamless and graceful mystery-thriller. Each sequence is impeccably cut and paced to build tension or conjure dread. Even the dialogue is precise, the characters speaking efficiently, contemplating every word as a hunter preparing for every kill. The film is set in a remote tract in the Philippine countryside: isolated, pure and enchanting, but also brooding with threats of evil.
Birdshot is also a coming-of-age story. The farm lass at its center, Maya (Mary Joy Apostol), possesses a simple, quintessentially Filipina beauty. Her clothes, rough earthly garments highlighted by a red wrap, recalls the plumage of the mayang pula, the humble bird that was the national bird before the haribon took its place. She may be innocent and look meek, but she is not entirely submissive. Once, her grandmother visits and admonishes her for not keeping her hair well-combed. For a while she is occupied with her appearance, but comes to realize that if its sole purpose is to attract men, then it is worth nothing to her.
With admirable restraint, the film shows that the Filipino Dream is not enough for happiness.
The first version of the Filipino Dream is indistinguishable from the American Dream, because many Filipinos would not think twice of any opportunity to migrate to a wealthy land of opportunities, or indeed any land where the government is known to care for its residents. The version of the Filipino dream for those who do stay is nevertheless an imitation of the American Dream, in its materialistic vision of middle-class comfort: a house, a car, and children with college degrees. Ironically, the common means for achieving this dream is, still, migration—overseas work, where the father or mother, or both, sails abroad for a living, sacrificing the chance to watch their children grow up, to share in their troubles, to attend their graduation ceremonies. Such is the Filipino diaspora.
What Home Feels Like, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival, is a patient portrayal of precisely what its title suggests. The question that follows is, what kind of home is it? It lets us know in the very first scene. Antonio (Bembol Roco), a seaman, is calling home to his family in the Philippines, telling his son Julius (Rex Lantano) mundane details of his work onboard a ship. When he asks about Alison (Bianca Libinting), Julius rushes out to fetch his twin sister, leaving the phone receiver open. Antonio continues to speak on the line: frustrated, he says he is running out of credits, and eventually the connection is cut. The camera holds still for a quiet minute or so. From what little we see on the frame, a well-adorned piece of furniture, we can guess that they have a beautiful, middle-class house, built through the labors of a distant father—who finds it difficult to communicate with the very family he built the house for.
Old-fashioned both in visuals and in story, this 1991 ‘Goma-Dawn’ film can nevertheless startle even modern audiences.
Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit is a 1991 adaptation of the classic English novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. That novel, while without doubt an excellent work of fiction on its own, almost begs the question: does it owe some of its success, part of its much-celebrated status, to the tragedy of being its author’s first and last novel? (Brontë passed away only a year after her novel was published, and so never came to appreciate her novel’s full success.)
This is not to criticize the novel’s value in any way, because no amount of sympathy for the author’s misfortunes can save a novel if the work itself lacks substance. This is merely to suggest that Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, in drawing from Victorian literature, also acquires much of its charm in this association with its source material. Like the idea that the appeal of Wuthering Heights, as a creative work, is enhanced by the circumstances of its creation, there is neither criticism nor praise in declaring that its Filipino film adaptation borrows heavily from the beauty of earlier works—there is only acknowledgment, that any work of art cannot escape being part of something larger than itself, of a world beyond the boundaries of the art form.
It may be distractingly beautiful, but like any good film there is more to ‘Sakaling Hindi Makarating’ than its spectacles: here is one reading of the poetry that extends beyond the postcards.
Perhaps all forms of storytelling are, in essence, also forms of travelling. Even when a story does not, literally, take us to unfamiliar places, it will always at least transport us, figuratively, to unfamiliar situations. Every story that introduces us to new characters is a visit to the home of strangers; the most profound tales are expeditions to the unlit depths of human hearts and minds.
Sakaling Hindi Makarating, then, is twice a travel film, because it pairs the figurative journey of its characters with the premise of a literal voyage. Far from being the typical touring blockbuster, which treks through various locations purely for spectacle, Sakaling Hindi Makarating distills the beauty from each of its destinations, then uses this essence to chart its characters’ arcs in consequential ways. By its end, it feels almost regretful that one regular feature film can accommodate only so many settings, while keeping the itinerary meaningful.
Warning: this discussion shares extensive details of the film’s plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’; this was written mainly for those who have seen the movie.
The passion project of a film is a gorgeous love letter to journeys of all kinds, be it across an archipelago or through the depths of heartache.
Director Ice Idanan, when asked how she came up with the story of Sakaling Hindi Makarating, does not hesitate to share that it was directly born out of personal experience. She wrote, initially, to help her cope with heartbreak, and the first story drafts thoroughly reflected the bitterness she felt at the time. But as months passed, she found beauty in the process of recovering from pain and rediscovering herself, and this newly brightened outlook similarly found its way onto the pages of her script.
It would take many more years and many more pains before Sakaling Hindi Makarating would be completed—at least one script development and two film financing grants later, to be exact—but the film will finally arrive in theaters across the country.