HOPING FOR RECOVERY IN THE DEBRIS
Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s Taklub examines the lives of displaced survivors of the cataclysmic “Yolanda” supertyphoon that hit Tacloban, Leyte in 2013. Rather than show a re-enactment of this terrifying circumstances of the vicious howler internationally known as “Haiyan,” Mendoza with his peripatetic lens focuses on the survivors’ struggles to restore a sense of equilibrium in their lives after losing their loved ones to a violent storm surge.
Bebeth (Nora Aunor), Larry (Julio Diaz), and Erwin (Aaron Rivera) represent the survivors that Mendoza follows. Although each character has his or her particular narrative of grief and pain, all of them in Mendoza’s view trudge on and manage to show some compassion in spite of the destruction they have personally experienced. For instance, despite the loss of her children, Bebeth goes around soliciting from friends and strangers donations for Renao (Lou Velasco) whose wife and children died in a tent fire. Larry finds a cross and regarding it as a sign of divine counsel, buries it as a form of protection from future harm. Driven by a desire to put up his own house by the sea, Erwin tolerates the tedious shuttle between conflicting government offices while filing and processing his relief claims.
On the surface, these stories may be emblematic of harsh consequences of climate change. But on another level, the film’s problem has less to do with environmental degradation than government inertia. As the title suggests, “taklub” amy refer to the role of government as a safe haven or shelter in times of collective disaster. But the film takes on the darker meaning of the title, characterizing government as an entropic institution unable to render timely humanitarian aid and responsive social services (numerous reports say that official government approval for Tacloban’s rehabilitation was given days before Haiyan’s first anniversary).
In the film’s opening scene after an eerie survey of ruins and debris, a fire breaks out in Renato’s tent in tent city and kills his wife and children. Mendoza’s scene staging reveals how the family is trapped in a makeshift government-supervised set-up that leaves people like Renato vulnerable to misfortune and accidents. As Renato’s neighbors run to the sea to fill up their pails with water and douse the fire, Bebeth watches helplessly at the unfolding tragedy. Later on, fed up with the onerous red tape, Erwin urges his neigbors to sign a petition to expedite government assistance on their year-long plight. These incidents underline a critique of government’s claim to be the people’s safety net. Government’s slow-footed and bureaucratic management of post-disaster relief efforts extends and worsens the survivor’s suffering.
It would have been so easy for the film to end up as an agitprop manifesto replete with rants and vitriol (ironically, theh film is co-produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Instead Mendoza assumes a more challenging observational stance, sorting out and assembling from the debris of lost property and lives shards of details, frail hopes and memories and eventually forming a devastating picture of callousness and apathy. With a discerning documentary eye, Mendoza limns the depth of the survivors’ patience in the face of tremendous loss and lethargy. Through Odyssey Flores’ superv hand-held cinematography, Mendoza presents in subtly filtered shots a washed out view of a city drained of faith and hope.
Following Mendoza’s vision, the ensemble cast’s acting avoids depicting the characters’ individual traumas in hysterical or maudlin terms. Nora Aunor’s performance for the most part of the film is understated, then rises to a pointed indictment against an obdurate system and culminates in a richly empathetic gaze at fellow mourners in a mass grave. Lou Velasco enlarges his deceptively small supporting role through an intense interpretation of existential despair. Julio Diaz in a taut introspective scene crumbles while literally carrying a cross and realizes that his well-intentioned participation in a penitential procession is more talismanic rather than redemptive. By the time credits roll up, these performances accompanied by Diwa de Leon’s requiem-like score effectively etc in the viewer’s mind the scale of neglect that survivors have to endure.
TAKLUB (2015) Direction BRILLANTE MENDOZA; Screenplay HONELYN JOY ALIPIO; Production Design DANTE MENDOZA; Cinematography ODYSSEY FLORES; Editing KATS SERRAON; Music DIWA DE LEON; Sound ANDREW MILALLOS, ADDISS TABONG, PAULITO HOMILLANO, DENNIS PAYUMO; Cast NORA AUNOR (Bebeth), JULIO DIAZ (Larry), AARON RIVERA (Erwin), LOU VELOSO (Renato), RUBY RUIZ (Kagawad), SOLIMAN CRUZ (Angel), ROME MALLARI (Marlon), SHINE SANTOS (Angela); Produced by CENTER STAGE PRODUCTIONS, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES, PRESIDENTIAL COMMUNICATIONS OPERATIONS OFFICE – PHILIPPINE INFORMATION AGENCY (PCOO-PIA); Color/Runnng Time 1:32
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