Wednesday, July 19, 2017

TOFARM 2017: Review of HIGH TIDE: Children and Clams

July 18, 2017

The awards ceremony of the 2nd ToFarm Film Festival was held last Sunday night. The winner for Best Picture was this film "High Tide" directed by Tara Illenberger. This film also took home three more awards: Best Cinematography, Best Editing and a Special Jury Prize for its three child actors for Best Performance as an Ensemble. Honestly, the title and the unknown cast did not appeal to me at first. But the accolades won made it a must-see before the festival ended today.

Laila and Dayday are the daughters of Tibor, who works in a fishpond and Ligaya, the best laundrywoman in their place. Unyok, a boy who lived next door with his Auntie Mercy, is mute following the trauma of losing both his parents in the last super-typhoon that hit their island three years before. The three kids help their parents earn money by picking up clams on the beach to sell to a restaurant. 

One day after Christmas, Ligaya was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and required surgery at the cost of P15,000. As Tibor went around trying to raise the money by borrowing from friends and pawning valuables, he still came up short. Desperate to have their mother be released from the hospital, the three kids hatched their own plan to help contribute to the fund -- as risky and foolhardy as this plan may be. 

The time setting is December of 2016. The tide levels published in the calendars have now become unreliable. I assume the location is a small rural seaside town in Iloilo because of the characteristic lilting accent of the Ilonggo language, the main language used for the film. Further clues that the town location was Dumangas, Iloilo would be the generous product placement of Nitz Bakery (where Auntie Mercy worked) and the casting of its real-life town mayor Onal Golez as Manuel Deles (the owner of the fishpond where Tibor worked).

Forrest Kyle Buscato (as Unyok), Riena Christal Shin (as Laila) and Christine Mary Demaisip (as Dayday) are obviously raw acting talents, and their inexperience would show in some scenes. However, in the scenes that matter, all three children were able to deliver performances that audiences could emotionally connect with. Of the three, it was the youngest one Demaisip who made the biggest impact with her delightfully natural scene-stealing performance. I was relieved to see in the closing credits, that the kids all had a stand-in, as they figured in some dangerous scenes. 

Actor Arthur Solinap does not really look like blue collar worker, but he totally immersed in his character Tibor's occupation, literally wallowing in the mud, to convince us he can be one. In their scenes together, Solinap possessed a chemistry with the two girls playing his daughters. Dalin Sarmiento played Ligaya, always the calm and patient mother, ever smiling when doing chores and washing clothes. It seems no one ever gets cross in this film! 

The audience favorite was Sunshine Teodoro who played the sweet Auntie Mercy. She provided the comic relief, as some light jokes were made about her weight (the flattened bread) and figure (the thickened stick figure). According to the closing credits, Nathan Sotto played two characters: Unyok's father Berto, and also Uncle (Auntie Mercy's husband who was not seen for most of the film because he was a lighthouse keeper). I thought those two guys were played by two different actors because they looked different.

For its nature advocacy, there are multiple mentions about the value of mangrove forests for the ecology of the islands. One of the settings, Isla Dula Dula (or Vanishing Island), as shown by a beautiful overhead drone shot, is practically one big mangrove jungle. The Mayora (Joan Paulette Mary Libo-on) conducts a free mass wedding in their town every Christmas, and the couples have to plant mangrove in return. There was even a part where there was a short instructional about how to plant mangrove seedlings. 

While the film was a simple, realistic and engaging family drama, I'm not sure how it adhered to the agricultural theme of the ToFarm Filmfest, but I'm thinking maybe it was the mangrove aspect that tied it in. Anyhow, the lush cinematography of the mangrove island showed both beauty and peril. The suspenseful editing of the boat scene was heart-stopping. Tara Illenberger was a noted Film Editor first, before she embarked on a writing and directing career as well.  She was quite eloquent in this her latest one, both in story and in imagery. 6/10.

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