In the Details
by Philbert Ortiz Dy
It is difficult to view Mangatyanan without considering the success of director Jerrold Tarog’s first feature, Confessional. In context of his previous film, Mangatyanan’s adherence to conventional structure and techniques may seem a tad underwhelming. But make no mistake, Mangatyanan is still quite the achievement, a work that cements Tarog’s place as one of the country’s most promising young filmmakers, exhibiting a level of proficiency in almost all aspects of the craft that can hardly be found among the country’s more seasoned directors.
Laya (Che Ramos) is a young professional photographer who has drifted away from her family. Her father has fallen ill, but she hasn’t once come to visit him at the hospital. Her mother, who left their family when Laya was a child, returns to urge Laya to make amends with her father, but Laya’s pain goes deeper than her mother suspects. Laya is sent to the provinces to document a ritual of a disappearing indigenous tribe, and there, she inadvertently comes face to face with her own demons as she observes the relationships of the last remaining members of this dying culture.
Mangatyanan is a great film because of its details. Local movies are often painted in broad strokes, constraints in time and budget cited as reasons for loose scripting, laissez-faire filmmaking, and subpar technical details. It’s all right if the script isn’t as tight as it can be, as long as you get the gist of it across. It’s okay if the sound isn’t great, since we can dub it later. We don’t need the perfect frame; we just have to shoot something. Mangatyanan is the antithesis to that way of thinking, the movie shot on a festival budget and under Cinemalaya’s timeframe, yet producing a level of artistic and technical quality that easily tops films made for millions more. The classically structured script revels in its symmetry, no detail left hanging, no development unforeshadowed. The story plumbs the realm of allegory as it outlines the trauma of a single character, deftly painting a situation where no one is left an easy out, where everyone is sublimely human. I only take issue with the final scene, which is somewhat necessary in an emotional sense, but feels like a break in the film’s flow and form. But otherwise, it’s really solid stuff, and it’s backed up by some truly solid filmmaking. I urge people watching this film to take a moment to just look and listen. What you’re seeing and hearing ought to be the standard that we hold all our productions to. The attention to detail is staggering, the sound, the score, the cinematography and the production design all flawlessly done, the effort and thought put into each aspect clearly coming through. It should be noted that the film has been recut since its screenings at the CCP, with about ten minutes excised, and the new cut is just punchier overall, the film’s themes hitting cleaner.
The cast is no slouch, either. Che Ramos is a phenomenal young talent, and she makes Laya’s emotional barriers as clear as day. She’s really thought this character through, and there isn’t a false moment in her performance. Publio Briones, who many will remember from his breakthrough performance inConfessional, is still pretty magnetic, though this performance is a little weaker overall. Neil Ryan Sese and Irma Adlawan round it out with solid turns, while Myles Kanapi sort of overdoes her comic relief shtick.
Back in my coverage of Cinemalaya, I said that Mangatyanan just wasn’t as good as Confessional. Having had some time to think about it, I’m forced to take back that statement. Mangatyanan is as good as Confessional, and its quality only grows as you spend more time with it. The new cut is really quite an improvement as well, and I would recommend this film to just about anybody.