Friday, July 14, 2017

TOFARM 2017: Review of SINANDOMENG: Faith and Fidelity to the Farm

July 13, 2017




Sinandomeng is a special rice variant marked by white and long grains which has a soft, slightly chewy consistency when cooked. Even if this film is about rice farmers, the title does not refer to the rice variant specifically at all. In a witty play on words, it about the loyalty and closeness of central character Sinang to her father Domeng.

Mang Domeng and his wife Marta had three daughters. The eldest Dory and youngest Betchay had husbands who went abroad to work and lived in different houses within the same neighborhood. The middle daughter Arsenia, nicknamed Sinang, stayed to care for her parents, especially since Mang Domeng had suffered a stroke that rendered him wheelchair-bound. Her husband Fabian is one of the few men who stayed to be a farmer.

One day on his 56th birthday, Fabian suddenly fell dead while plowing their field with their faithful carabao Pogi. Real estate developers promptly talked to the sisters to offer them P4.5M. each for their share of the farmlands. Dory and Betchay were eager to sell. However, Sinang felt she owed it to her father and herself to hold on to the rice fields which she held dear since her childhood and their family's main source of income for generations.

Sue Prado, a kayumanggi earth goddess personified, was the perfect choice to play the strong-willed and fiercely loyal Sinang. Her face reflected her strength of character as Sinang goes against her mother and sister's wishes. Her scenes at the farm never looked artificial. She had me convinced that she was indeed a farmer. During those uncomfortable encounters with the sleazy Augusto (Anjo Padilla) kept making naughty passes at her, Prado's Sinang remained unflustered, confident and dignified. She should be a leading candidate for Best Actress in this festival.

Lou Veloso could not move or talk as the invalid Domeng, so he had to rely on his reliable and versatile facial expressions to act out his thoughts. Lui Quiambao-Manansala played a old mother who had retained her sense of humor despite their misfortunes. In smaller roles are Star Orjaliza, who played the elder sister Dory and Gab Pangilinan, who played the youngest sister Betchay. Julio Diaz had a short appearance in the beginning of the film as Fabian, who also suffered from a ruptured aneurysm like the actor.

This film was written and directed by Byron Bryant. Despite a story that had a sudden death in the very beginning, the treatment by Bryant was actually with a sense of humor. I cannot say it was an outright comedy, but several scenes made me smile or laugh. Morbid as it was, the way the family learned about the death in itself had the audience in stitches.

The whole film had a very old-fashioned rustic appeal. You really see how a rice farmer lives -- rising up early, plowing the field, fixing the irrigation, buying the seeds, the planting of seedlings, all done by Sinang and her daughters. The tagline seen in the poster ("Farming is feminine") is a clue that the film is telling us that, with a singular focus, females are capable successfully handle a farm. 

Further adding to the nostalgic appeal of this film is the presence of the Sama-Sama Salo-Salo Singing Troupe who provided a lot of the folk music and songs in this film's soundtrack. Their version of "Sa Lumang Simbahan" meant a lot during the wake and funeral scenes. At the end, they also accompanied Sinang's daughters as they sang folk songs to their grandfather like "Ang Pipit" and "Sinisinta Kita" both of which were so gratifying to hear.

This film is a simple, straight-forward, unadulterated story about a farmer, making it a perfect fit for the agricultural overall theme of the ToFarm Film Fest. Even if the cinematography may be grainy or unfocused or dark at times or the loud background noise may overpower the dialog, the positivity, optimism and overall good vibes of this movie makes it a pleasant rare bird among indie films. 6/10. 

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