Barako: between awakening and apprehensions

(a review by Rhod Nuncio)

A common-sense view still prevails in film making today that film mirrors society. The independent film, Barako, which opens glaringly on a historical footnote about the American occupation of Batangas in 1900, insinuates this notion. The film’s backdrop emphasizes General Malvar’s and his Batangueño compatriots’ important role in defending their town and the nation against the atrocities of American forces.

The film Barako is part of the ongoing world premieres of Cinemalaya’s finest independent movies which run from July 20-29, 2007 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Manolito Sulit, the Filipino poet cum director and scriptwriter of this film envisions a crisscrossing of time, genre, form, and narrative to bring out a contemporary reading of local/national Filipino life.

History ends where the story of a sleepy, quiet, simple, impoverished town in Batangas begins. The film takes us forward to the ‘80s in a very common rural setting. It takes off from the Publisista’s (Arnold Reyes) return to his beloved town, which reminds us of Ibarra in Noli Me Tangere. Publisista is a writer by profession and he confesses: “Hindi ako aktibista, ako’y isang manunulat…” Yet, his dissatisfaction to see his town and its people suffer from poverty and other social ills leads him to gather his friends to form barakuhan – a townspeople’s dialogue over a cup of barako coffee. True enough, it empowers the people to initiate actions and change despite the harassment of the ruling political clan and its minions. Barako becomes a social and political metaphor for people’s strength and bravery.

The plot however is convoluted by numerous social issues plaguing the town like gambling, prostitution, power black-out, electoral fraud, and corruption. The film downplays the importance of character development. It is not clear why the engineer’s life is much more in peril than that of the Publisista’s. Why local liquor is more apparent than the barako coffee? Why are there many scenes showing the actors’ back, not their faces or front shots, while delivering the dialogue? These are minor things which we have seen in the director’s cut of the film.

The juxtaposition of symbols and scenes is quite stimulating like the baboy and bomba scenes of Mando wrapped succinctly with the “quicky” scene of a prostitute and a tricycle driver.

Mando’s awakening and the Publisista’s apprehensions in the end draw out the tale’s conflict from the collective psychological anxiety of the townspeople. We hope that it essentially appeals to the intellectual appreciation of viewers. Short of saying, an intelligent film needs an intelligent viewer.

We must recognize the startling performance of new actors like Arnold Reyes, Carlon Matobato, Paulo O’Hara, Clottie Lucero, Ryden Callueng and Nonon Carandang along with the unquestionable acting prowess of Simplicio Bisa, Leo Martinez, Nanding Josef, Vim Nadera, Mike Coroza with the special participation of Archie Adamos and Behn Cervantes. Most especially, the film will never be complete without the poignant introduction and summation of National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.

War and freedom are two opposite extremes. How Filipinos suffered defeat in the hands of their colonizers is an act of bravery. In the film, as history crosses and flashes back once again in the narrative, the motif of heroes dying with dignity is dramatically intriguing. Whether we won or lost in the war, gained independence or not, the question remains: are we free today? Sulit’s film raises more questions than answers. If the film mirrors society, then Barako presents an interesting case study.

(Read on Kritikasatabitabi)

Manood ng “Barako”

 Barako (2008) on IMDb

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