October 19, 2016
It did not seem possible at first, but barely had we reeled from her mystical and metaphorical film "Tuos," Ms. Nora Aunor is back with a film even MORE mystical and metaphorical.
Sita Dimaiwat is a very religious Catholic woman who lived in Naga with her one son named Lukas. As a young boy, Lukas was very close to their parish priest, memorizing all his catechism and prayers. As a young man though, he chose to take up Law in Manila instead, memorizing his jurisprudence textbooks. One day, he joined a political rally and was killed. Sita went to recover her son's remains and rode a train to bring him back to their hometown.
Such, simply put, was the bare bones of the story. However, what we saw on that big screen was a complex masterpiece of abstract film art draped on this framework. Nothing was simple about this film, everything seemed on an otherworldly plane, only occasionally resting on solid ground for us to get our bearings straight. The whole film felt like a vivid dream floating in the subconscious of a mother struggling to deal with the death of her only beloved son. The imagery may be whimsical (like the multitude of fireflies, the falling stars, the solitary islet), or disturbing (like the rape of banana trunks, the unspooled cassette tapes, the three dead Christs floating down the river) -- either way they are open to any form of interpretation by the viewer.
Spoken in Ms. Aunor's native Bikol language, the whole script by director Kristian Sendon Cordero was written like poetry, if I were to gauge the words as translated in the subtitles. It sounded like poetry the way the lines were delivered, very deliberate and measured. Nothing it seems sounded like regular daily conversation, even those shared over a meal or a drink -- between mother and son, between two lovers, between mentor and student. There was never a shallow line, as everything seemed to have a deeper meaning. It waxed philosophically about various topics ranging from legends, religion, astronomy, discipline, mathematics and death.
Ms. Nora Aunor of course felt so right in her present element -- the independent film milieu -- where she can delve into the grittiest, most esoteric and most ethereal subject matters unexplored by mainstream cinema. The three actors (portraying Lukas as a precocious boy, as a curious teenager and as a studious law student) on whom she shared her maternal wisdom all did well. In particular, Jess Mendoza, who played Lukas as a young adult, held his own against the Master herself. He was charming and sincere in his performance, you will certainly feel why his mother is suffering so much after he left her.
I do not claim to fully understand everything in this beautifully-shot yet thematically profound film. It was extraordinary in the enigmatic delivery of its message. The storytelling style of Cordero was not linear by any means. I sense he may be going for Terrence Malick's style, ala "The Tree of Life". The film flashed back and forward and sideways, at times unmindful of conventional logic, as it melded reality with fantasy, memory and imagination. The final product was entrancing in its overreaching intentions, although admittedly there were times when its sheer depth and emotional heft could get too heavy for the audience to bear. 8/10.