October 21, 2016
Last Wednesday night (October 19, 2016), an unassuming film entitled "Women of the Weeping River" was named the Best Picture for this year's QCinema Film Festival. I call it unassuming because there were no known actors in it, only depending on its story and quality to catch its audience. Nevertheless, it won the biggest prize, and more impressively two among its cast of unknown actors actually brought home acting awards. These unexpected victories made me want to catch this film before the festival ends.
Rendered in the Tausug tongue, "Women of the Weeping River" is about an inter-generational rido (a Maranao term which refers to feuds between clans) between two Tausug clans whose domains were separated by a river: Mustafa's family vs. Ismael's family. The feud had been deadly, costing lives on both sides. Mustafa's daughter Satra had just lost her husband Hasmullah to the feud, and is doing everything to keep her son Hasim (Hasim P. Kasim) safe. As the violent feud continues to escalate among the men, the women are beginning to think otherwise about letting the rage burn them down.
The sociological appeal of this film cannot be denied. People who only hear about the violence in Mindanao will be interested to see the inside story. Not the incidents of violence themselves were shown, but the effects of such violence on the families involved. It may seem illogical how feuds that began several generations ago still figure very prominently affect the lives in the present crop. There are no innocents here. As long as you carry the name of the enemy, you are fair game. The role of Muslim women in their society are also highlighted, adding further depth and color to the cultural study.
There are scenes in this film of astounding cinematography, especially those shot from a distance to capture an impressive vista of nature framing the human action. There were breathtaking shots of Satra and her husband's floating corpse on the river taken from above, men marching on the crest of a windy hill, Satra and her mother Nuryama (Dalma D. Baginda) sitting in a field of yellow flowers, the lady Farida (Sharifa Pearlsia P. Ali-Dans) meeting her late husband on the beach at sunset. Some strikingly dramatic close-ups also evoke deep emotion, such as the cow's head, the coloring book, the butterfly.
Neophyte actress Laila Putli P. Ulao was awarded the most coveted Best Actress distinction, over multi-awarded veterans. Ms. Ulao is a stunning beauty with a fine profile which looked good from any angle. She did very well on her first major role as Satra, very natural and unpretentious. Her raw acting style fit well into the director's vision. She nailed her major dramatic moment. I am not sure if it really surpasses Ms. Nora Aunor's performance in "Hinulid" or Ms. Jaclyn Jose in "Patay na si Hesus," but it was definitely a remarkable debut performance for a newcomer to achieve.
Personally I was more affected by the no-nonsense, very realistic performance of Taha G. Daranda as the embattled patriarch Mustafa. When he talks, you feel like you are listening to your own father or grandfather talk to you. He steadfastly observes the rido as it is expected of him to uphold the family honor by avenging their losses. However, you can really feel his genuine concern for his wife and family, with his sincere humility coming though when he takes responsibility for the collateral damage during the fighting. His Best Supporting Actor award may have been a surprise, but it is very much deserved.
Director Sheron R. Dayoc hails from Zamboanga City. He had previous success tackling Mindanao issues in his film "Halaw" (Best Film, Director, Actor, Cinemalaya New Breed, 2010) and more recently, his documentary "The Crescent Rising" (Best Documentary, Gawad Urian and QCinema 2015, Best Asian Documentary, Busan Filmfest, 2016).
"Women" is the first Dayoc film I had seen. I admire his no-nonsense advocacy to bring Mindanao matters into public attention. The topic of this film about clan wars is dead serious, so the humorless experience watching it may be too dreary for many audiences. However, this is a vital topic that needs to be addressed. The final scene may be frustrating for some as it revealed only the first step towards a way out. But then again, the solution should not look that easy. It isn't. 7/10.