March 19, 2015
Of all the entries in the current Sinag Maynila film festival, this may be the one least likely to attract attention because of the unfamiliar title. The others all have snappy cool titles, but this one is a real head-scratcher. In fact, if it were not for the fact that it just so happened to be the one showing at the time I was in the mall, I might not watch it at all. If that were the case, it would have been too bad indeed. This film turned out to be a very well-made indie worthy of bigger audiences and even awards.
Bambanti means "scarecrow" in Ilocano. It is also the name of a colorful week-long festival celebrating the bountiful corn and rice harvest in Isabela province held every year. This whole film written and directed by Zig Dulay is delivered in proud Ilocano language, with subtitles in English.
Set in a golden sun-kissed corn field in Isabela, "Bambanti" tells of the story of poor young widow Belyn, who barely made ends meet with her laundry work, and her son Popoy, a smart and spirited kid. When one day Popoy was accused of stealing a gold watch, their already humble existence plunges to even harsher depths.
I have not seen the other films yet, but I feel that Alessandra de Rossi deserves a Best Actress trophy for her work here as Belyn. She had to keep her composure as painful accusations came from others and doubts came from within her own self. This actress has really come a long way in her acting career, now becoming a dependable star in many indie films, giving creditable performances in every film she was in. That scene when Popoy's letter was read to her can melt even the toughest hearts.
De Rossi's co-star here is another dependable indie film star, no less than Ms. Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino. Her role here seemed simple. Her character had to balance her compassion for her sister-in-law Belyn and Popoy with the plight of her own spoiled brat of a daughter, Cristy (played with so much spite by Delphine Buencamino). Ms. Shamaine made it look so effortless.
The most impressive actor here though is the youngest -- Micko Laurente could definitely tug at your heartstrings as Popoy. This little guy was so naturally charming, none of the pretentious sassiness that some child actors have to put on to look cute. His tearful scenes are touching without trying too hard. The delivery of his Ilocano lines were as if this language was his mother tongue. I have seen Laurente act on stage in Tanghalang Pilipino's "Kleptomaniacs". He was very good there, but this film shows that he also registers very strongly on the big screen as well.
Sometimes the simplest stories make the best films. It depends on the way the filmmaker frames this simple story in the most breathtaking images and scenes. Dulay effectively contrasted the way children and adults react to an accusation. Those moments of childhood innocence between Popoy and his sister were priceless. The cinematography of this film is glorious, with camera angles that are very imaginative and compelling and colors that burst through the screen. The symbolic festival dancing scenes were very colorful and enticing.
Even without seeing the other films, "Bambanti" possess a quality of excellence which will make it a serious contender for awards come awards night. 8/10.