Thursday, October 20, 2016

QCinema 2016: Hinulid, Women of the Weeping River

There's a certain kind of lyricality in the interconnected scenes of Kristian Cordero's Hinulid; with its non-linear, almost abstract narrative, the work feels more like a poem than a film. Collectively, its themes limn a cinematic pieta, a mother searching her memories for the meaning behind her son's seemingly meaningless death. These memories are interspersed with religious iconography, treatises on law, justice, and flashbacks. The film ends up loosely constructed as a result.

Nora Aunor's star shines among her fellow actors, giving us a spectrum of emotions, at times impenetrable, at times vulnerable. It's always a treat to see her in action, although without an equally formidable foil her co-actors pale in comparison.

While the film's poetry holds for most of the running time, the work starts to crumble under its own weight during the last half hour, as it tries to tackle too many things. During this period we see several scenes where the film could have ended perfectly, but didn't. The end result proves exhausting as the film tries to include as much as it can into an already full package.

Despite that, the film's poetry cannot be denied, and certain scenes prove mesmerizing. Parts of Hinulid can be quite challenging, but the rewards may be worth it in the end.

On the other hand, Sheron Dayoc's Women of the Weeping River seems to approach its subject matter in a relatively low-key manner. But even then, the richness of how it frames its images reveals the depths of its tragedy.

I was surprised to find out that like Dayoc's Halaw (2010) this film was also about the Tausug, though the problems that afflict the Tausug are also problems faced by many of the peoples of Mindanao. Women of the Weeping River takes place during an intergenerational family conflict that has recently claimed the husband of our protagonist, Satra. This clan or tribal warfare regularly claims the men of both families involved, with each death leading towards a desire for further retribution, sealing the circle of violence. Soon, much like in Teng Mangansakan's recent Daughters of the Three Tailed Banner (2016), this vortex of death creates a family of widows and children without fathers. And as Satra's wounds grow even deeper, she comes to realize that further violence helps absolutely no one.

Breaking this circle. on the other hand, proves harder than expected, as the notion of ubusan ng lahi has become normalized in a sense, as many of Satra's relatives believe that justice can only be achieved purely through retribution. They trade parts of themselves (figuratively, at least) for weapons, forging alliances with people who depend on the culture of violence to prosper. Women of the Weeping River's milieu is filled with death, funerals and processions (both Christian and Muslim), and rivers that weep blood.

And looking at the larger picture, the conflict in this region of Mindanao is only the end branch of a much larger, complex entity, whose roots are these deeply entrenched systems of violence. It frames the role of women - wives, mothers, daughters - and their role in this conflict and in conflicts to come. It's encapsulated in one of the last scenes, when two of these women - widows both - meet each other in the forest, taken perhaps with the same notion of peace.

While incredibly melancholic at times, during this scene Women of the Weeping River gives us a tinge of hope, that perhaps within the right context, we can begin to understand why this violence exists rather than merely acknowledging that it exists. And there can be no peace without understanding.

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