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Closer to Home weaves a universal, haunting tale of two people inexorably drawn together for vastly different reasons. Dalisay struggles to journey from the Philippine countryside to New York City to marry Dean, a disillusioned ex-merchant marine. She's hoping to buy a cure for her dying sister and, ultimately, a future for her debt-ridden family, while he hopes to escape his disintegrating American family through love and a family of his own. A powerful, controversial film that quietly builds to a shattering collision of aspirations and cultures. Written by
Endorsed by the Philippine Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) in recognition of the crucial Philippine realities and social consciousness that the film brings to society on the issue of poverty. See more »
So you bought a new lock! I hope you spent your money on a good one.
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(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
Much of the effectiveness of this deeply affecting and ultimately tragic film is due to what is not shown and what is not said.
Dalisay (Madeline Ortaliz) is a young and pretty Filipino girl who--perhaps among other strategies--puts herself up as a mail order bride in order to get to America to make money to help her family and get medical help for her younger sister who has a heart condition. Maybe that is her motivation. What makes this movie so beguiling and intriguing is the ambiguous nature of Dalisay's desire. She is a "good girl, a proper girl but...(I am reminded of an old song)...one of the roving kind." She tells her family that she will work in America and send them money. She doesn't tell them that she is a mail order bride. This is the essential duplicity that Dalisay enters into. She has a cousin in America who will help her with the details. Perhaps this is planned. We really don't know. Perhaps she is waiting until she sees her intended and will play it by ear from there. Again, the ambiguity of her desire--and indeed the ambiguity of anyone's desire, especially that of a young girl from a poor rural family in a poor country who has been making her living sewing clothes in a sweat shop--is what intrigues us. No one's motives are completely pristine. There is always an element of self-service involved, even in the most humanitarian ventures, even if it is only that of being the one who is doing good. Dalisay is being good, but one gets the sense as the film develops that she is being good partially for Dalisay. She has seen what it is like to work in a sweat shop and she has seen what happens to the girls who give their bodies away. She is wiser than that. She has a plan.
Director Joseph Nobile who co-wrote the script with Ruben Arthur Nicdao overplays the idyllic rural setting in the early scenes--the good father and family, their hard work, the happy, if poor, children, the bright and ambitious daughter in whom they believe. They are of course preyed upon by middle men and money lenders, but they hold their heads high. I think Nobile would have been wise to cut out about half of these opening sequences in the Philippines because they are too cloying, they too much recall the clichés of the good and noble peasants being used by the evil power structure.
However, there is something to be said for the build up. We do see that although Dalisay brings gifts to her siblings when she visits, and she seems delighted to see the children run alongside the bus, there is some restraint in her affection, some slight distance from the little ones and from her father and mother. The family affection, although seemingly demonstrated, struck me as lukewarm. Perhaps that was the intent so as to account for Dalisay's leaving them.
The film begins slowly. I would have given up on it had I not known of the film's reputation. I stayed with it and I am glad I did because once Dalisay gets to America about halfway through, the story becomes riveting and develops into a powerful tragedy of conflicting desires, told in stark realism and beautifully acted by Ortaliz and John Michael Bolger who plays Dean.
He is one of live's pathetic losers who has a dream, an island girl of his own, to love him and to serve him and to be his wife and constitute the loving family that he doesn't have. Ah, but the intrusion of reality! We see that although Dalisay is good and non-exploitive herself, she has her own dreams and they are not likely to include an over-the-hill, broken-down and drunken cabbie, a guy with a dysfunctional family, a guy who can't keep a job and wears too much cologne. When he says he loves her we know there is no way she can say she loves him.
An important scene that foreshadows the end catches Dalisay and her cousin Tess at the kitchen table in the apartment. They are joking in Tagalog about Dean's physical attributes. We can see how cozy they are, the two women in their shared culture, and how alien Dean is as he comes upon them and doesn't understand what they are saying. Ultimately we feel sorry for Dean. We pity him. Yet we understand and appreciate Dalisay's decision. She does what she has to do, and she does it with dignity and honor.
A final point: When Dean is seen crying near the end, we the viewers know why he is crying, but his family does not. For the audience the tears are ambiguous and his tragedy is twofold, just as Dalisay's motivations are ambiguous and twofold.
This is very close to masterpiece. It is original and faithfully done without choosing sides or assigning blame one way or the other. Like a Greek tragedy, the end is fated and due to human frailty rather than any conscious iniquity.
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