Battered wives are common subjects of film, TV series, books etc. So Jay Altajeros’ Sinag Maynila Festival entry TPO (Temporary Protection Order) comes with a set of expectations: violence, submissiveness, a woman and her child’s helplessness.
Since this is cinema, you expect the man’s blows to be brutal, even gory. Thankfully, there’s no blood, no pitiful bruises and black eyes on an otherwise pretty face (Mara Lopez as Teresa the battered wife).
What’s left are images of these insults to a woman’s physical weaknesses via a telling long shot through a big window that shows Miguel the husband (Oliver Aquino) cursing the wife and delivering devastating blows with his back towards the viewer and the poor missus out of camera range.
The mind sees clearly what the eyes can’t, and the images are far more devastating.
Maria Teresa did what every modern battered wife would do: go to court for a TPO, and leave the conjugal home with her 8-year-old son (Miko Laurente) JR in tow.
The thing is, the husband and his domineering dad won’t let things be. They move heaven and earth to get the unico hijo back.
Chain effect. As usual, the war not just tears the marriage apart. It also damages an innocent life. JR loses his focus and faces school problems, one involving an act of juvenile violence towards his equally young seatmate.
The act of violence is small compared to what JR’s dad is doing to his wife. But violence by any other name is violence, and the boy seems to be following his dad’s bad example.
TPO is far from a horror movie. But the boy’s behavior is too fraught with terrible consequences it scares the living daylights out of this writer.
The sins of the father are repeated by the son. And this not only applies to Miguel and JR. It goes back to Pang (JR’s father, played by Menggie Cobarrubias). The old man doesn’t beat his wife (Dexter Doria) black and blue. But he violates her dignity in many other ways. He treats her like a slave and verbally abuses her.
The big gap between the two women in the story doesn’t lie only in their age. It also lies in their attitude. The older woman bears everything in silence, the other fights back.
TPO shows that fighting back and keeping silent is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Both mean more suffering: with no end in sight.
SYMBOLISM OF STAIRCASE. The staircase viewers see each time the two women bear the brunt of their respective husbands’ abuses doesn’t appear by accident.
It represents a crossroad, a place that takes a person up or down a certain location. In this case, the "location" is the woman’s self-esteem, the foundation on which her very life depends.
The long staircase first appears when Pang goes down and meets people from the court regarding Teresa’s complaint. It reappears when Pang’s wife emerges from the bedroom and bungles up a chore she’s assigned to do. It appears again--bigger and more imposing this time--when a voice-over tells the viewer of the charge Teresa’s husband has accused her of.
Always, the staircase stands for a turning point in the story. It’s an invitation to the viewer to think of what awaits them in the next scene.
Problem is, the pace is excruciatingly slow, which could turn off some audiences.
The last scene doesn’t look like one because it leaves you with many questions. Yes, other movies bank on this technique of a hanging ending, but this one doesn’t make you feel like wanting to see what’s next.
That’s sad. Because the indie film could have moved people to act in behalf of abused women and children.
In not doing so, TPO let down, not only the viewer, but the women and children who could have found a stronger voice through the powerful medium of film.
TPO is one of the entries of the 2016 Sinag Maynila Film Festival, ongoing until Tuesday, April 26.
Films are being screened at SM Megamall, SM Aura Premier, SM North EDSA, SM Mall of Asia, and SM Manila.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.