Area is set in the dark and dirty alleys of the brothel-filled district of Angeles City in Pampanga. That place is the lowly neighbor of the glittery Fields Avenue, where restaurants and bars abound to attract tourists.
Back in the day when there were American bases in the country, dollar-bearing American soldiers trooped to Fields Avenue for oftentimes sex-laced fun while less moneyed Pinoys headed to Area to blatantly take part in its flesh trade.
The movie Area tackles prostitution, and goes beyond and deeper into the world of the so-called oldest profession in the world.
Ben (Allen Dizon) comes from a long line of brothel owners who helped institutionalize the sex trade. He grew up hearing stories how his ancestors supported actions against the Japanese invasion. He is a devoted son to his ailing mother and his elderly grandmother. He is also a loving single father to his only child nicknamed Boy, to whom he proudly shares their family history.
As the manager of one of the few remaining brothels, Ben is all-out friendly to the patrons and protectors and is fairly reasonable to his stable of prostitutes. His assistant Duman (Sancho Vito delas Alas) helps him run the casa, as a prostitution den is called in these parts, and his son Boy does his part in negotiating with patrons.
Ben’s casa is made up of experienced pleasure givers with their own stories to tell: Hillary (Ai-Ai delas Alas) had spent her glory days on Fields Avenue and now, in her middle age, counts as her regular customers an aged man and a pair of Siamese twins, who pay her in goods like a stolen electric fan and a couple of canned sardines. She keeps a stash of cash that constitutes her life savings and her dream trip to the U.S.
Julie (Sue Prado) is a favorite among the casa’s patrons. She has three young children. Whenever she has a customer, she usually entrusts her children to Hillary’s care.
Belen (Ireen Cervantes) is the youngest and has a lesbian lover. Taba (Sarah Brakensiek) and Glo (Tabs Sumulong) are veterans who, like Hillary, have seen better days as sex workers but they stay in the casa because they have nowhere to go.
Shot on location in Area in Angeles City, the movie feels so raw and authentic that the viewer is able to experience, albeit virtually, life in that world and to know intimately Ben and his stable of prostitutes.
Credit goes to the whole team, from director Louie Ignacio to his creative team led by screenwriter Robby Tantingco and the cast.
The director and screenwriter succeeded in using symbolisms to emphasize the movie’s theme and elucidate the characters’ innermost feelings. For instance, the opening scene of Ben’s family having dinner of mussels, and his son Boy complains of the seashell’s not-so-fresh taste. A mussel or tahong connotes female genitalia.
Another example is showing how and how often the characters take a bath, which, in turn, is their way of washing themselves of their “dirty” way of living and become clean again.
The same goes with the use of the Holy Week as the movie’s setting and backdrop, complete with the traditional pabasa and Senakulo and the extreme practice of getting bloodied and crucified like Christ. This depicts not only the religiosity of the Filipino people in general but specifically the characters’ desire to ask for forgiveness and make penance for their sins.
Sometimes, though, the movie becomes too absorbed with its environment that it tends to veer towards the direction of the documentary film. The story only picks up when Hillary’s stash of cash is stolen and Ben gets into a heated confrontation with his workers.
Hillary breaks down and Ben sees the possibility of closing down the family business. But in the end, she gets her just reward and he makes his own decision.
Ai-Ai delas Alas, Allen Dizon, and the rest of the cast give essay their roles with credibility, sincerity, and commitment.
As a prostitute, Ai-Ai constantly has a woebegone look on her face as she services her clients. During her breakdown scene, Ai-Ai is able to elicit pity as she agonizes over the money she lost. However, the momentum is lost when she suddenly kisses the character played by Allen. It doesn't even make sense since her character is mad at him for being indirectly involved in the incident.
She more than makes up for it in her last scene, in which she meets her long-lost and sorely missed loved one. The scene is very emotional and gives a powerful ending to the drama film.
Area is being screened at Cinema '76 located at 160 Luna Mencias St., Brgy. Addition Hills, San Juan.
For schedules, visit: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcinema76fs%2Fposts%2F379505329060674%3A0&
Ed's Note: The 'PEP Review' section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.