‘Instalado’: knowledge is power, and power corrupts

Despite its problematic attitude to science, and its shortcomings as a work of cinema, ‘Instalado’ is full of ideas demanding discussion.

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The release of every new Filipino science fiction film is cause for excitement, because sci-fi is such a rarity in Philippine cinema. It does not help that the mainstream attempts are often trashy—figuratively as well as literally, in the case of 2007’s Resiklo. Science fiction, or speculative fiction in general, is an engaging medium for discussing important ideas about society. The genre holds great potential for our country, where the people are addicted to escapist entertainment.

We cannot blame a lack of talent and imagination. There is in fact a wealth of excellent speculative fiction in Philippine literature, but these stories remain obscure in a nation with no particular love of reading. (We have great authors like Dean Francis Alfar, who have published stories and books in fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism and every conceivable speculative genre, not just in the Philippines but internationally.) Films, with all their pomp and celebrity, are more effective at penetrating the Filipino consciousness, and thereby is a more powerful channel for disseminating meaningful stories.

Enter Instalado, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival. (This festival is itself a fascinating and unique project, with its dedication to the upliftment of Philippine agriculture.) The genius of Instalado is in the premise: it was a brilliant stroke of creativity for its filmmakers to have come up with a science-fiction approach on its way to joining a film festival about farming. Agriculture immediately evokes the pastoral, the rural, and indeed many entries in ToFarm are traditional dramas set in the countryside. Instalado instead recognizes that the struggles of farmers can spill down the road to the city.

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‘What Home Feels Like’: finding unhappiness in the good life

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.

Warning: this review discusses plot.

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