Alimuom (Keith Sicat, 2018)

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In Alimuom, Hope is like a bottled secret, a shrub with little tendrils and a disproportionately sprouted bulb.
The movie is set in the future. We are in an enclosed dome, under the conspiratorial rule of the government and capitalists. Farming is forbidden. Magtanim Ay Di Biro (Planting Rice Is Never Fun) is a song of dreamers, and Bahay Kubo (My Nipa Hut), a song that enumerated vegetables, is like a relic sung with a mix of genuine longing and innocence.

The soil outside our enclosed guarded area looks poisonous, littered with shales, marbles, and little rocks. Merely looking at their red, violet, orange, and yellow hue grades could seemingly scald skin like laser does or could implant polyps that grow into variegated cancers.
Starring in this space drama is Diwa. Professor-scientist. Daughter of an ailing experimenter who had researched on how to grow plants again. She was approached by a head of Ministry of Agriculture, to offer her a job, to uncover mysteries of something they found which could give a clue to this new life that the government seemed to be too frightened about, and secretly, use the findings from that research to destabilize and exterminate whatever rebellious groups have managed to survive the outskirts of the ‘protected section’ of the earth.

The narrative is steady, peaking appropriately when expected. There might seem diversionary passages, like the dance of the spider woman. But no, that is necessary, one magical, representational scene even, skewering a variety of female reactions and desires, excellently staged, impressive, considering some people weaned the Hollywood way would expect bizarre creatures peopling a space bar-room or disco sequence.
Ina Feleo gives her character fullness and complexities of a woman: sexual, intelligent, caring. It’s a well-embodied and -rounded human, showing her aspects as sister, daughter, romantic partner, mother, workmate, intellectual. Her vocal inflections are on point, like how piercingly sardonic her “brain drain” comment registers as her reply to her students who all raise their hands when she asks them if they plan to be OFWs (Outerspace Filipino Workers). You feel genuine longing in looking into her eyes, her genuine fear and desire. How mesmerized they were when she witnesses that solo dance number of a seductive woman. That moment, she could have been a slave of Sappho, entranced, short time.

For the actors, the dialogues could be challenging to remember, specially the scientific jargons, and to deliver them convincingly they must commit and understand them. There is a scene where I felt Dido dela Paz (as Diwa’s father) struggled with his words. He could even be reading the lines from a cue board, especially with the way his eyes were angled and captured, a little tentative and shaky at times.
But overall, everyone did a great job, from Kiko Matos as guard-agent who could be unwittingly sending with his performance a tinge of cyborg, with his expressionless, mannequin-looking face, to Elora Espano, the renegade woman, mystical especially on her final shot, her face wrapped in a red shawl, at her back, the sun.
The aesthetics is convincing and impressive too. This movie proves that no amount of money or advanced CGI could beat Filipino inventiveness and artistry. Composition, set design, lighting and color grading did the trick. Some familiar sculptures by Julie Lluch Dalena also appear and punctuate that sexual female: a spiritual mix of vulva and flower, hard, curving, tactile, representing strength, freedom and fearlessness, which Diwa embodies as well.

The film still has a good versus evil theme overarching all those personal drama in it, but the dark force is not as pronounced and visible as in Star Wars or any memorable movies of the same genre. I think they are only mentioned twice: the capitalists. They are the ones who control the government. They could be the ones who promoted and pushed to have it decreed that the soil is lethal and unsuitable for planting. In spirit, it is still the age-old class conflict that impinges on the family and all types of relationships.
Finally, in one pivotal scene, we find Diwa’s father open and close a cabinet, his face lit by the light from the cupboard. He was placing inside some grown plants, some violet flowers. It could be the Hope I speak of awhile ago. To be hidden. ‘Silenced.’ If that time then were today, I wish that those plants grow up soon like giants, like from the Little Shop of Horrors. To symbolize our disgust with the current government, a regime whose moral foundation and roots are questionable and shady in nature. The seedlings should grow and rise up to defend the peasants, farmers, and workers. In times like these, it’s probable that monsters are the only ones who could kill monsters.

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