Cinemalaya 2009 # 1: Mangatyanan, Impressive
Jerrold Tarog's "Mangatyanan" is the most impressive entry in this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival. It is a tour de force of mood and emotion, its techniques and sensibility feel very organic, evoked from the scene at hand and its plot so tight that I won't be surprised if it wins the Best Film award.
We first see Laya (Che Ramos) gasping for air as she emerges from the sea. From a distance, she sees a mirage of a man, its distorted figure reaching out to her. She wakes up. It's 3:30 in the morning. She has been dreaming the same thing since she was 12. Something always bothers her sleep. That something turned out to be her father, a famous photographer (Pen Medina) whose constant sexual abuse of Laya tore her family apart. Now at 27, working as a travel photographer, she is tasked to cover a dying harvest ritual called Mangatyanan in Isabela. What she finds there is a strong connection between the tribe's predicament and her own troubled life. Eventually, Laya is forced to face the ghost of her past.
That, in a nutshell, is the dramatic arc of this impressive film that is both enjoyable and gripping to
watch. Mangatyanan is part of Mr. Tarog's Camera trilogy which features people with camera. Here, the camera doesn't function as part of the technical aspect of the film. It doesn't click and shoot. There are no still shots. It's just a mere gadget which is dear to the protagonist. This, among other things, is a clear indication that Mr. Tarog doesn't rely on technical cliches but creates his own technique and style. His shots never judge - they simply observe and follow with unclouded and sincere concentration. Best of all, they're hardly boring.
Everything in the film works - from editing to musical scoring. Except perhaps for its attempt to resolve all problems, you can consider it a flawless cinematic work - in an 'indie' level, of course. But you shouldn't trust me with such statement - I'm just probably drunk and too impressed with "Mangatyanan." I can assure you however that you'll get your time and money's worth watching the film. It's too beautiful beyond words. What makes it more impressive is the powerful performance of its main protagonist, Laya played by Ms. Ramos (who was remarkable in her role as a mother of two who's in relationship with the same sex in Virgin Labfest's "Boy/Gel ang Boypren ni Mommy".) In "Mangatyanan," she possesses a cold facade that hides torrents of pain. With her strong frame and evocative portrayal, she is able to hold the film together.
I can bet my bottom dollar that she'll bag the best actress trophy.