Month: August 2016

Tuos (Derick Cabrido, 2016)

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Barbie Forteza as Dowokan, the next-in-line binukot princess in the movie magic-realist drama Tuos (The Pact), disobeys and ‘tampers’ herself and the glory and ‘privilege’ attached to her fate. Such ‘misstep’ or action puts Pina-ilog’s (Nora Aunor) life in peril, the tribe’s reigning princess, which forces Nora to fight later the nature spirits that have enshrined and have safeguarded the sanctity of such position.

It’s somehow a cruel fate to be cloistered inside a hut, barely touched by humans except by serf maidens’ hands and with mostly the cold, beautifully beaded and woven linen of ceremonial dresses having contact with the body. Vanity could be prized by some women, and I guess acceptable amounts of self-love and -admiration is necessary. To stay alluring and attractive even for one’s own eyes is at a certain degree tolerable. But in Dowokan’s case being lavished with gifts for her beauty and being put to a pedestal to be stared at by her tribesmen for years doesn’t matter much. The pervasive nature of different cultures and the onslaught and accessibility of media, must have altered her tastes and must have been influential for her to have the gall to question an esteemed tradition, and must have heightened her primal instincts and passions, especially such boldness to test that early how it feels to love and to break the ‘pact.’Dowokan’s initial intransigence puts to the spotlight again the need to analyze the cultural and traditional role of women, in this particular case presented more like a bane, especially if we take cue from that childlike and spirited hops of Pina-ilog on the beach towards the end, and the projection of the nature spirit as a sexual punitive demigod-beast.

In this movie Forteza’s character is presented in a series of scenes hence more ‘relatable,’ easier to follow, her actions and reactions laid in a simple story arc. Our understanding of Pina-ilog on the other hand is hampered by the fact that she is presented in pieces, in clues, which I would say is a deft strategy of the plot and direction and in consonance with the mystical nature of her character. Some thought that that cold birdlike eyes of Aunor, probing and staring at Forteza framed on the other mirror, is mere majestic visual accident? No, if they recall it after seeing later Pina-ilog’s ‘reminiscence,’ they would have understood why she stared at Dowokan with a little tinge-mix of dread and anger then. Some should have felt and understood why Pina-ilog, bedridden, had to utter upon waking up from a bad dream her granddaughter’s words with a certain degree of trepidity; but they didn’t, because comprehension happens towards the end, and only in re-watch would they have appreciated that, that at-the-moment’s grandmother’s fear, crushed spirit, which also must have partially caused her sickness.

Despite their initial mis-appreciations, who could forget that enchanting hawk dance of Aunor, trampling other dance scenes in Philippine cinema in regard to impact. There is no striptease there, only a woman garbed in traditional tribal mandarin  dress, with arms stretched as if readying to fly, regal with each step. When the camera moves to close-ups of her face and does a circular dolly track shot , we gasp and our hearts flutter at the different shades of the face aged with wisdom and grace, lighted and shaded,  the figure absorbing all the warmth, magic and energy around her, and immediately returns to us mini-explosions of her own magic. In the seeming interminable minutes of the sequence, we don’t complain. We are happy to be intoxicated and we recover thankful for the much needed internal mini paroxysms.

Tuos is a new Filipino film classic. Cabrido’s hands are certain here. Under his direction, the various elements of the movie complement each other, from the opening drably-lit but textured cinematography and production design in the day scenes, to the gloriously lamp-lit night scenes where the facial expressions, the geometric details on clothes, the preciousness of jewelry and headdress, create a filmic wealth of moments that underscore the uniqueness of our tribe and culture. The suture between reality and animation is unnoticeable, the snippets of instrument-playing, and chants and what could be diegetic sounds from the rustling of leaves and branches, to the little cries of animals and insects, further strengthen the transitions.

With this movie, Nora Aunor steadily solidifies again a new set of body of works apart from an already impressive and enviable filmography. This time the accretion is measured not in terms of the popular label or tag like ‘Noranian moment’ but with the way she consistently disappears as a movie star and actress into her role and then unleashes a little of that star power when necessary. It’s proof that she has truly become better with age. She acts more subtly, more effective here like with that slow inverted arc of her lips in the final scene at the beach, and with gestures and nuances of her body projecting a memorable composite expression of freedom, digging up, from the deep waters of her past and from her more recent ‘errors,’ sympathy, pain, and richness of feeling, a certain group of the rich and elite could only view and admire from a distance because they are afraid to lose their precious wealth and status and their furtive brand of discrimination. Some of their kind are usually the ones who mistake this artist’s recent contributions (and roles) as minor when in reality they are otherwise.