August 12, 2016
Even though we do not see Superstar Ms. Nora Aunor much in mainstream movie projects, she is as busy as ever in the indie scene. She had been making more than two films a year since she starring in "Thy Womb" in 2012. As ever, a Nora Aunor movie is an event local cinephiles all look forward to, and this, her latest Cinemalaya project, is no different.
In the mountainous hinterlands of Antique, there is a tribe that lives in ancient tradition. Their respected elder is a woman they call a "binukot" -- a cloistered woman who kept the oral tradition alive by memorizing their epics and singing them on special ceremonies. The current binukot Pina-Ilog, with her head of thick floor-length gray hair, is preparing her own granddaughter Dowokan as the fair maiden chosen to be the new binukot princess. Only 15 years old and in love, Dowokan had different ideas about their traditions and defied them. The titular tuos, or pact to appease nature spirits, was about to be broken.
Nora Aunor had very few lines in this film as Pina-Ilog. Being a weak aging woman, even her actions are limited and controlled, as we see her either confined to her bed or being carried in a basket. We see her performance mostly with her expressive face and eyes. Sometimes we may feel that Pina-Ilog was not the main character. In the end though, there was no doubt that she was.
The bulk of the acting was on the shoulders of young Barbie Forteza. Forteza was impressive when I first saw her as Ricky Davao's daughter in "Mariquina" two Cinemalayas ago in 2014. As Dowokan, on whom the film's conflict revolved, Forteza had most of the lines and most of the screen time. She holds her own against Ms. Aunor, and was also very effective in her quiet emotional scenes.
The main highlight of this film is the breathtaking cinematography by Mycko David. From the very first scene we immediately see the lush photography of the wilderness, with rich green foliage and blue skies and running waters. This would be taken literally to greater heights during the scenes during the scenes showing how some members of the tribe go down their mountain to the town below. The adventurous camera angles, the macro nature shots, the reflections in the mirrors, the use of the color red in the native costumes were all so remarkable in its beauty.
However, I had a problem with the seemingly rushed and unrefined execution of strange climax. It was an intense fight scene but so shadowy and unclear, so starkly different from how the rest of the film looked like. It just looked uncomfortably out of place the way it was done. Of course, it can be argued that it may have been done on purpose to emphasize the contrast of the coming transition, and I can see that too on hindsight.
The complex script about the challenge of preservation of traditional beliefs and practices in the modern times by Denise O'Hara was written in proud Kinaray-A tongue of Antique. There were segments in the film when reality dissolved into animated fantasy in order to bring the epic poetry being sung to life. It was too bad that Ms. Aunor could not sing these verse herself. Anyhow, the vocal performance of Ms. Bayang Barrios in the soundtrack was truly haunting. Director Roderick Cabrido has succeeded to create a film of vibrant visual beauty and rare cultural depth. 8/10.
*** UPDATE (08/14/16): Congratulations to the #Cinemalaya2016 Awards won by Tuos!
Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Original Musical Score,
Best Sound, Audience Choice Award (Full-Length)