Tuos inhabits a natural space in a forest where life is simple and lived among creatures of the natural environment. Yet the mise-en-scene conjures an invisible yet very present mysticism that permeates the air.
There is an ethereal quality to Nora Aunor as village royalty Pina-ilog in the Cinemalaya 2016 entry Tuos. Even at her first appearance onscreen, where she is surrounded by light and gauze fluttering in the wind, she feels present but not fully present in the here and now. This is the pervading sense up until almost the last scene of the film, when there is a transformation in her character.
Barbie Forteza as Dowokan, her granddaughter and erstwhile heir to her dubitable distinction carries on her canvas of a face so much hidden just under the surface. She is beautiful in her youth but there is a certain hardness that belies her age—and later on, we find out that it is because of the weight of expectations on her.
The grandmother and granddaughter are sequestered in a hut where no one else can touch them except for two women who care for them like ladies in waiting or handmaidens. They are, in a way, regarded as royalty in their little village, that believes that there is a curse from of old and that the chosen woman (Pina-ilog) and her heir apparent (Dowokan) are all that stand between them and their reckoning.
The myth behind the belief is slowly revealed through animation that is interspersed with the live action narrative. It runs in parallel with the narrative and is woven so intricately—as history and legend impact upon our present beliefs and motivations. The film oscillates between reality and myth, but the separation is not always so easy, which may be part of the reason why animation is used for the retelling.
An underlying theme is the friction between traditional and modern, embodied by the elder and the younger “binukot princess,” the living vessel of folk tradition.
Pina-ilog wants to keep their traditions alive, carrying as she does the weight of the obligation placed on her by the village people as culture bearer and guardian against the supernatural. She sees it a natural succession that her Dowokan, who has also been chosen, should also learn the oral traditions and cultural practices of their tribe in order to preserve and pass them on to the next generation.
However, Dowokan challenges the very belief at its core and introduces her own beliefs of choice and individuality to the equation. The young lady wants to be free to pursue her love for Dapuam (Ronwaldo Martin).
ARTISTIC MERITS. The production design is rich and details are beautifully orchestrated by Steff Dereja.
The musical score by Jema Pamintuan, heavy on the bass, is hauntingly appropriate to the tone of the movie—here but not completely of this earth.
The cinematography by Mycko David lends rich hues to nighttime scenes when the light of candles or a burning fire make the scene earthy, but also makes daylight scenes haunting, with minimal contrast. The drone shots could have gotten out of control—but with a determined hand, they gave a breathtaking view of the precarious journey from the mountain home through thick forests and flowing rivers. The editing by Cyril Bautista reveals just enough and does not hesitate or falter.
Banaue Miclat’s voice, as the narrator of the myth, carries the sharp tones of tribal oral traditions as well as the weeping quality that the nature of the story demands.
EXEMPLARY DIRECTION. The direction by Roderick Cabrido shows a firm grasp of the story and its underlying themes. There are many shots that are repeated, forming a theme, most notably, the theme of mirrors: what they reveal and what they hide. The dialogues between Pina-ilog and Dowokan are tempered and controlled in front of the mirrors, where their images are reflected but also separated—much like the breach that separates their beliefs.
The tableau at the dining table is another powerful image that repeats itself, showing the two women and their handmaidens in an apparent mirror but also separated by more than physical distance.
The screenplay by Denise O’Hara is painful and haunting. The old versus new, traditional versus modern theme is nothing new, yet by situating it in such a culturally-rich milieu and adding elements that are uniquely Filipino, including taking off from myths and legends, it enriches the storytelling. Personally, I was not comfortable with how the wrestling of the demons was executed, but that is mostly because I am not a fan of horror movies.
The members of ensemble cast essay their roles with admirable control. By bringing life to the headstrong Dowokan, Barbie Forteza confirms that she is one of the new generation’s actresses with depth. Nora Aunor makes us believe the terror in her eyes is not unfounded and her transformation in the final scene shows that her character has truly completed an important journey.
As the living vessel of folk tradition, the village royalty Pina-ilog (Nora Aunor) dances in the midst of modern life's challenges against her culture and identity.
Tuos is one of nine full-length entries competing in the 12th edition of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival that will run from August 5-14, 2016.
(To learn more about this year’s entries, read: Cinemalaya 2016 loses one entry; Nora Aunor, Judy Ann Santos among stars featured in 12th edition)
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.