Bong Ramos’s indie film Haw-Ang (international title: Before Harvest) stirred controversy when the main character, Sister Adel (played by Kalila Aguilos) succumbs to a night of forbidden passion with Isagani (Neil Ryan Sese).
It has been reported that when Haw-Ang was screened in a Catholic school, the head nun walked out after the love scene was shown. Yet nuns present at the world premiere at the Cultural Center of the Philippines opted to stay and watch the entire movie before judging the indie film, which was shot entirely in Hungduan, Ifugao province. The Ifugao rice terraces were inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995 "because of its great beauty that expresses conquered and conserved harmony between humankind and the environment."
The film begins in the time of preparing rice paddies for planting, in that season of hopes and dreams called "Haw-ang." Sister Adel is a young missionary who lives among the Ifugao to teach them catechism and basic literacy. She is passionate about building a schoolhouse for the children even when her dream is met with indifference and hostility.
Sister Adel becomes close to the precocious seven-year old Tuwali tribe member Dacmay (Dacmay Tangliban) and her father Isagani. The latter, who is an NPA (New People’s Army) rebel, becomes her confidant and falls in love with Sister Adel.
The young nun patiently teaches the young villagers to read and write through songs. She defies the convent’s mother superior and is forced to give up her habit when Adel insists on returning to the remote village to fulfill her promise.
Theater actress Kalila is cast in a role that is a complete turnaround from her previous role as Queen Femina in Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal. As Queen Femina, she bravely donned a skimpy two-piece outfit yet this same courage shines through in her sensitive portrayal as a nun torn between her love for God and her love for man.
Neil Ryan reinvents himself as Isagani after portraying Judas in Dulaang UP’s play Passion of Christ/Pasyon ni Kristo. His performance as a mild-mannered rebel soldier in Haw-Ang is also in complete contrast with his portrayal in Lupin as the sidekick of Janno Gibb’s Inspector Clavio character.
The directorial debut of Bong Ramos depicts native rituals such as the inoawit ceremony for healing and the local version of feng shui to determine whether their chosen site is suitable for building the schoolhouse. These make Haw-Ang a good cultural exhibition of Ifugao practices.
Boasting of a good mix of veteran and first-time actors as well as a heartwarming tale of love and sacrifice, it’s not wonder why the Department of Education-National Capital Region decided to endorse this indie film, which is rated Parental Guidance by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.
Does the film’s depiction of nuns, as represented by Sister Adel, warrant a walkout? Find out the answer by watching Haw-Ang in SM digital cinemas nationwide.