January 9, 2005


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Cry me a river no more for Pinoy film industry

BAGUIO CITY (Jan. 7) — A must-see film. Curiously, you can count on your fingers and toes the number of people who watched this movie during the last two days it was shown here in the city. Blame it on the meningococcemia scare, or the Pinoy’s apathy towards quality films.

The SM Pines cinema was wanting in audience that would appreciate this movie that garnered Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Child Actor awards at the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival Awards Night. “Panaghoy sa Suba” (Cry of the River) should have won Best Film and many others who believe that there is hope in the Filipino film industry share the same view.

Read about a good quality movie and that means a movie with substance, and push that further, a movie with a political statement, and voila! its life span at the theater is cut off before you can even ask your friends to view it with you. It is lamentable that people would patiently line up at the tills to watch Kris Aquino’s irritating “pagpapakyut” in a movie like “So Happy Together” or watch Vic Sotto’s worn-out antics in “Enteng Kabisote” rather than spend two hours viewing and appreciating a lyrical retelling of a significant period in this country’s history. One can think of a thousand reasons why.

The film opens with an idyllic shot of a river with a boatman, Duroy (Cesar Montano, yes, he starred, directed and co-produced it too) the movie’s protagonist. It is 1942 and in this remote village somewhere in Central Visayas, life is simple, people dependent on riverine resources and rattan gathering. Already, we are introduced to the presence of an American businessman who arrogantly orders his workers around but reserves special attention to Iset (Juliana Palermo), the barrio lass awkwardly transformed into the local sophisticate by her aunt, played by Caridad Sanchez. Duroy’s unspoken and hesitant affection for Iset appears doomed as he can’t compare with the American’s aggressive persistence and expensive gifts.

Though remote and seemingly isolated, the village is threatened with the Japanese forces’ occupation. The impending war between the US and Japan compels Duroy to convince others to seek refuge in the mountains and strategize their defense plan. He clearly states that this is not the Filipinos’ war, it is a war between two powers staged on a foreign land. There is no recourse but the defense of the motherland (You can gush here at such convincing declaration of this handsome, intense guerilla leader). When Japanese forces come and take over the village, the womenfolk and children find sanctuary in the church and protective care of their priest. Iset is abandoned hastily by her American suitor who murdered his rival, Duroy’s brother and who is fearful of the Japanese forces’ arrival. Iset now becomes the subject of affection of the commanding officer of the Japanese army, the kind and anguished character portrayed by Jack Woo (one of the film’s co-producers).

Meantime, the guerillas led by Duroy are gradually decimated by malaria and only medicines from the church can save them. Duroy’s sister (played by newcomer Rebecca Lustrado) volunteers to get medicine from the village priest and is eventually captured by Japanese soldiers and tortured. The priest is executed by the Japanese. The guerillas, successful in their punitive actions against the occupation forces finally succeed in vanquishing the enemy without American “pa-hero” assistance.

One cannot help but recognize and draw up a clear analogy of the characters with historical circumstances. Iset, the mother country pursued, wooed and lured by two foreign powers, US and Japan. Her scheming aunt and uncle, the government that pimps and shamelessly peddles the people’s patrimony, and, Duroy and the guerillas, the freedom-loving people who were undaunted by foreign aggression. The river is where everything begins and ends, where the people’s daily lives and milestones are marked, and where Duroy, the boatman returns after leading a successful local war. One is struck, however, by the character of Duroy, who in his simplicity and shyness is intense but subdued and deeply patriotic.

One may also choose to be apolitical in appreciation of the movie. Initially the dark shots rendered were disturbing but soon after one gets transported to sceneries reminiscent of a halcyon period. If you’re for period pieces and waxing nostalgic, the cinematography is superb and successful in indulging your longing. The smooth and steady shots of the pristine river made you wonder if nature would ever go back to that kind of serenity again. The camera was consistent with its focus on the river to render a continuing flow of the story. Set design was faithful and meticulous to the last detail, save for Duroy’s Macario Sakay hairdo which was a bit distracting. Casting was commendable, including a host of other characters who played peripheral cinematic but significant role as village folk.

By the way, the dialogue was in Cebuano but with accurate English subtitles. Could you ask for more?
There is hope for the local film industry. May the tribe of Cesar Montano increase. I say this not because of his thespian and directorial skill supported by an able cast, not to mention his good looks, but because of his daringness to venture into such projects. Our panaghoy is: More quality movies like this please! # Lira Sta. Romana for NORDIS

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