A MOTHER PROTECTING HER CHILD AND SURVIVING
Gigi Javier Alfonso
Bambanti is a scarecrow in Ilocano. This story is set in Luna, Isabela with the backdrop of a town that celebrates good harvest and the guardians of the fields through the bambanti festival. A good location where one can see the folks’ dedication and pride in the annual fiesta. This is a story of a mother, a widow of an alleged member of the NPA, with three children. Her only son gets embroiled in a seemingly minor situation that turns controversial, becoming a victim of painful accusation and persecution as thief of a missing gold watch.
We must take note of the highly cinematic way of pushing the narrative with its opening panoramic shots showing the view of the golden rice fields. The numerous scarecrows in the background, middle ground and foreground as the newly widowed Belyn, performed by Alessandra de Rossi, walks back home. The golden rice fields dwarf the tiny figure of Belyn as she falls to the ground. The same scene that we will go back to as the film nears is end and simply makes us think of how things are in towns like this all over our country.
A fast shift of the camera to Popoy, Belyn’s son precociously played by Micko Laurente, playing a betting shell game and foregrounding birds in the cage for sale which gives the foreshadowing of an oncoming series of events that trap the mother and son in an unforeseen scenario. There are many little inserts of shots like that of a mother dog feeding her puppies giving some visual cues, readying us for a vicious fight of a mother defending her child. The story moves on to show the usual day and night journey of Belyn’s family in this town of festivities merged with the everyday struggle of its people, a scene which is often replicated in many other similar towns.
At night, Belyn lights the candle for the santos at their little altar and their table as they eat their meager meal for the day in her little hut. As the morning comes, Belyn is greeted by a man, a stereotyped loan shark, who does his rounds of asking for payment for her loan and reminding Belyn that her debt is piling up. Though she tries to hide, she still has to face the embarrassing situation of explaining why she cannot pay her debt.
Regularly, she takes a long walk to do housework for a rich relative Martha (performed by theater actress Shamaine Buencamino) so she can bring food to the table for her family. She does the laundry for Martha, the wife of her brother-in-law (aptly played by Julio Diaz_, in exchange for some money and occasional fish or whatever can be shared for the day.
De Rossi’s outstanding performance is notable for its effortlessness. Her inner power is transferred to the viewer with ease. We see a mother who wants her son to study well, not to be derailed by lies and bullying that he is experiencing in school. She sees schooling as the way out of poverty. We see in her the mother who doubts her son at times but still remains fierce and steadfast in protecting him. But privately, she is shown harshly egging Popoy on to tell the truth. But the boy consistently denies the allegation of his Auntie Martha that he took the watch of his cousin Cristin (convincingly performed by Delphine Buencamino).
Director and writer Zig Dulay creates this town where everyone is a relative. But there is unevenness on who has the power, who are believable and who are sympathetic when there are crises of credibility. This film presents a story where it is necessary to have evenness in performances, an ensemble where everyone will have to be a good performer or the work collapses. Dulay is successfully in working with his actors, each one of them (Erlinda Villalobos, Lui Manansala, Celio Aquino, and Abigail Edilio) effectively dramatizing this story that we see in everyday life.
Brilliant is a pivotal scene which reveals the truth. This happens in a classroom where many truths are reinforced and cemented; where shared meanings are constructed but also the venue where myths are debunked. The school, however, is just one venue but we know that stories are created in our minds and the minds of the many others housed by other institutions as hey create realities. In this scene the mothers and relatives are asked to come to school to read the letters to the students who have been asked to write their parents. In this exercise of bonding, the students were not asked to come, only their parents or guardians. Here, De Rossi creates so much tension from the long moment of silence as she tries to keep within her the mixed emotions escalating in uncontrolled tears and moan of pain for her son’s agony while reading the letter he wrote to his deceased father. It is a masterful scene framed in a vibrant, innocent and lively atmosphere, with cleaver support by actress Kiki Baento as the jolly teacher. She then goes to the barangay captain and tires to put a period to the puzzle of the missing watch.
The story unravels after we see the same panoramic shots of the golden rice fields with numerous scarecrows as Belyn shrinks into a minute image. The ending is a meshed mash-up of events showing all the characters in the colorful bambanti festivities seemingly implying that life will continue to move on regardless of circumstance, just like people caught in the moving parade.
But then we sadly realize how easy it is to create and believe a myth built by lies so that a poor child and the widow of an alleged rebel can credibly be pegged as thieves, more especially so when the constructed reality is initiated and propagated by the rich, respected and powerful individuals of a town.
BAMBANTI (2015) Direction and Screenplay ZIG MADAMBA DULAY; Production Design APED SANTOS; Cinematography SOL GARCIA; Editing ZIG DULAY, CYRIL BAUTISTA; Music GIAN GIANAN; Sound MARK LOCSIN; Cast ALESSANDRA DE ROSSI (Belyn), SHAMAINE BUENCAMINO (Auntie Martha), MICKO LAURENTE (Popoy), DELHINE BUENCAMINO (Cristy), JULIO DIAZ (Daniel), LUI MANANSALA (Nanay Cita), ERLINDA VILLALOBOS (Lola Maryang), CELIO AQUINO (Jhung-Jhong), ABEGAIL EDILLO (May-May); KIKI BAENTO ; Produced by SINAG MAYNILA, SOLAR ENTERTAINMENT CORP., CENTER STAGE PRODUCTIONS, MUNICIPALITY OF LUNA, PROVINCE OF ISABELA; Color/Runnng Time 1:26
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