What is innocent can easily be corrupted but it can be washed clean again.
This, at least, is what the film Asintado (Between The Eyes) tells us.
Asintado is a fictional story set in the real barrio of Bibiclat, a far-flung community of farmers in Nueva Ecija that is only beginning to get attention, thanks to its distinctive Taong Putik culture.
At the heart of Asintado is the story of a widowed mother (Aiko Melendez) and her two sons. Poor and without prospects, the mother struggles to bring up two children, the younger Etok (Miggs Cuaderno) who has autism but displays a remarkable marksmanship.
In the film, the strange religious festival has caught media attention and has given rise to side festivals thrown during the religious revelry, causing the barrio to prosper and become a breeding ground for crime.
In the background of the festivities is Tonio, played by Jake Vargas, a young man brimming with the promise of love and life.
Nothing much happenes in Bibiclat. Aside from occasional tumble with his lover, Tonio’s life is pretty much at a standstill.
Realizing he cannot go far by sticking it out with his faint-hearted mother Julia (Aiko Melendez) and autistic younger brother Etok (Miggs Cuaderno), he takes a chance on established barrio thug Carias (Gabby Eigenmann) to give him a shot at a better life.
When he botches a drug courier job given to him, Tonio and his family must choose to fight or escape Carias’ wrath.
When her older son’s life is threatened, Julia is faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Asintado then becomes the weapon by which Julia redeems her family and the rest of Bibiclat.
Set against the backdrop of the Taong Putik festival, the film draws its spirit from the metaphor of salvation, of putting one’s fate in the hands of God. This virtue is pitted against free will, the desire to defy faith and tradition.
The practice, after all, is said to have started as a tribute of sorts to St. John the Baptist for the numerous times he saved the men and women of Bibiclat from woe.
One legend says an image of the patron saint drove away poisonous snakes terrorizing the village. In another tale, St. John sent heavy rain on Japanese soldiers about to execute the men of Bibiclat, miraculously changing their minds into setting their prisoners free.
And so on the feast day of the good saint, the men and women of Bibiclat rise before dawn to smear themselves with mud and cover themselves with leaves to be one with the saving earth and water.
As Tonio trembles in fear of death at Carias’ hands, Julia smears herself with mud and whispers prayers to St. John to give her weak soul wisdom and strength.
Asintado draws its strengths not from the story, which is rather simplistic, but from the spirit of the religious feast. As the characters struggle in their fear, the prayers of the faithful reverberate in the background, calling those who have strayed to return to the familiar.
The mud, the water, the earth remind them in their follies, they can be redeemed.
Asintado, directed by Louie Ignacio, is an official entry to the 10th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Its gala premiere is on August 2 at 3:30 pm.
This Cinemalaya 2014 entry will be screened from August 2 to August 10 in selected venues at the Cultural Center of the Philippines as well as SM Fairview Terraces, Alabang Town Center, Trinoma and Greenbelt Cinema.
(To learn more about the Cinemalaya 2014 entries, CLICK HERE)
Miggs Cuaderno is cast as an autistic boy in Asintado