November 17, 2016
The schedules for the films in competition in the C1 Originals have been spread out too thinly among the five theaters participating in the film fest. I was afraid I would not be able to catch any one of them. Lucky today, I had the free time to catch my first one, a film called "Malinak Ya Labi". Since the title was in a local dialect I did not know, so it gave no clue as what this film was going to be about.
Among the natives of Pangasinan, a ritual of blood sprinkling called "bagat" was done during inaugurations of houses or bridges to ensure a long existence. Usually, the animal sacrifice was a chicken. However, for bridges, it was said that a child may be the ideal sacrifice. It was 2009, and a new bridge was about to be inaugurated in an isolated town of Putot. A body of a young boy was dumped under this new bridge, seemingly a sacrifice in the name of "bagat". There begins this tale of inexplicable violence in a small rural town.
We follow the intersecting lives of some residents in Putot, a town so-named because of the dismembered saints in their St. Michael the Archangel Parish Church. We see the townspeople preparing for their fiesta, cooking up a feast and rehearsing for the big street-dancing parade. The film is in the Pangasinan language. The title translates to "Silent Night" in English. The words come from a popular song known in that part of the country.
There is Carmen (Luz Fernandez), a fussy old woman who collected jueteng bets. Her husband was Teofilo (Dante Balois), nicknamed the cock charmer for his love of fighting cocks. They are the grandparents of a little boy named Emmanuel (Angelo Alfero), an altar boy of Fr. Amadeo (Marlo Artacho) and a student of Ms. Amanda (Angeline Quinto).
Aside from avoiding the lecherous advances of her school principal Dr. Cacho (Jess Evardone), Amanda had a secret admirer in Domingo (Richard Quan), the husband of quarrelsome Myrna (Althea Vega), the "mermaid" of a travelling carnival. Lt. Salvador Calimlim (Allen Dizon) is a handsome soldier who charmed all the ladies, including the Mayora (Dexter Doria), the bored wife of Mayor Josefino Celestino (Menggie Cobarrubias).
And then there is Silvano (Raul Tamayo), the salt and bagoong maker, whose wife suffered a debilitating stroke that left her totally bedridden. He was the father of Carol (Shiela Paragas), Amanda's co-teacher, and Ferdinand "Makoy" (Timothy Castillo), boyfriend of nursing student Elena (Karla Estrada, a young actress, not Daniel Padilla's mother).
The number of characters I had just enumerated must have overwhelmed you. Most of these characters were there to represent the various colorful people in a typical Filipino small town. Not all of them were in the main plot at all. The carnival did not really matter in the story, nor did the cockfighting, though significant time were spent on those side topics. Domingo, in particular, seemed extraneous since he was not even seen in the concluding montage. Anyhow, the acting of the stellar cast was very natural. They all sounded like native speakers of the tongue-twisting Pangasinan language (I am not sure if they were).
The whole film was an ambitious attempt to create an intricate web of events surrounding a mysterious series of deaths where the victims had their necks slashed. I liked the way how writer-director Jose Abdel B. Langit told the story in a disjointed way, editing scenes together not in chronological order. This style could be puzzling at first but later you will get the drift as overlapping scenes were recreated from another character's point of view. This nonlinear editing style kept in the director's theme of "dismemberment".
The film was generally satisfying for its presentation of local color and culture. The local folk songs used effectively created a calm rustic atmosphere. The big revelatory moment at the end was done very well in terms of subtlety and suspense. However, you never really get the motivation behind the central mystery, which for me did not make for a satisfying ending. If the director wanted the audience to make their own conclusions, I wish there were clues to help us arrive at a theory. The act of violence seemed simply too random. 7/10.