It is difficult not to get caught up in the Cinemalaya 2017 entry Baconaua, when it is visually engaging and seems to be a tale filled with allegory.
There is a quiet, slow rhythm to it that reflects island life--one that slows down time.
Elora Espano, Therese “Teri” Malvar, and JM Salvado are three siblings at the center of this tale that takes place in a coastal town in the typhoon-prone island of Marinduque.
Some people, particularly cityfolk, view island life as idyllic. But from the beginning, despite the pervading silence, there is no peace in this town. The children’s father, a fisherman, has been missing for several weeks and presumed dead by all but them.
So the cycle of life and death and everything in between happen in the town: a fisherman is mourned and buried, lovers break up then move on, children run around and play all day, and fishermen depend on their catch for livelihood. But a mystical event triggers a succession of mysterious and then, tragic events.
The most breathtaking shots are aerial and underwater--as if with feet away from shore, away from land, there is a more tempting possibility: of being swept away from this world entirely. This is no small feat for director of photography TM Malones.
However, in the darkest--usually before the dawn or at dusk--there is much to be desired. The actions and facial expressions of Elora and JM, particularly, are almost obliterated, disappearing into the background.
Elora notably leads the cast with firm footing, acting like she was born in the island and knows the lifestyle well.
Therese Malvar essays her liberated character seamlessly. The 16-year-old actress even agreed to shoot a sexually suggestive scene with a much-older man. At a young age, she is able to express desire for Jess Mendoza’s character who happens to be the former boyfriend of her sister.
In fact, Elora’s character admonishes Therese to prioritize their work as fisherfolk by telling her bluntly: “Hanapbuhay muna bago kerengkeng.”
JM is a revelation as he portrays the youngest child, displaying a wide range of emotions and is up to physical challenges of the role as well.
Erlinda Villalobos is a dependable maternal figure who also moves the story along while Bembol Roco inhabits his character so well that it is clearly not a one-dimensional portrayal. Jess Mendoza is at alternately, sometimes at the same time, endearing and despicable.
The story falters in the middle though, like a boat whose bottom gives, and this slows until the end, because the mysticism gives way to some semblance of reality--but one that raises more questions.
Some elements also come into the picture seemingly out of nowhere, so that the viewer feels like some things have come out of left field. Could it be that the story aspired to be mysterious, then decided to make a turn towards social commentary? Or is it a reflection of the randomness of everyday life?
There are many plot holes that make us wonder.
But in the end, there are no answers. Only lives that are changed by the twists of fate and the fatalities in their wake.
Baconaua (Sea Serpent) is one of the entries of Cinemalaya 2017, which is ongoing until August 13. It is being screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Ayala Malls cinemas namely Greenbelt 1, Glorietta 4, UP Town Center, TriNoma, Fairview Terraces, and Marquee Mall in Pampanga.
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.