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This was the indie movie available yesterday afternoon when we went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines to catch the Cinemalaya Film Festival. We watched it from the luxurious orchestra section of the Main Theater no less. This film "Busong" ("Palawan Fate") by Auraeus Solito had a particular conceit as it had been invited to be screened at the Directors' Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year.
From the first scene where two native men in G-strings bear a sick lady in a hammock between them, "Busong" had "indie" stamped all over it. The actors were generally unknown, and seem like real Palawan natives. The pace of the whole movie was very, very, very slow. There were very protracted scenes where nothing was happening. You needed to wait through several minutes of seeing a woman running up and down the beach; a man stripping down, taking a sponge bath before snuggling up beside his wife; a motorboat approaching the beach; a modern-day shaman wearing a Burberry polo shirt does his healing rite with rice stalk pompoms in both hands over the sick lady Punay (the only recognizable actress, Alessandra de Rossi). You get the point.
The beautifully-composed images and scenes and their non-linear order of presentation may be cryptic. The time setting, as the costumes ranged from tribal to modern, may be cryptic. The individual lines of dialog in Tagalog and Palawan dialect, such as the humorous conversation between the returning native with his aunt, may also be cryptic. However the ultimate message of the movie is crystal clear. The incredibly beautiful island of Palawan is sick with recalcitrant illegal loggers, with rude foreign intruders, with toxic copper mines, among others. But hope is still possible for Palawan to recover from its many sufferings, just as the mysteriously non-healing ugly wounds all over Punay's body have a miraculous metamorphosis towards the end of the film.
When I was watching, the Cannes Golden Palm winning film "The Tree of Life" entered my mind as I saw these very well-photographed magnificent nature scenes amidst some very confusing scenes with human characters. But "Busong" goes one step further to interpret what this "tree of life" is to a Filipino visionary such as Solito. This short yet provocative scene elicited the most reaction from the audience who were by then probably already wallowing in the thick and heavy morass the rest of this leaden film felt like on a sweltering hot July afternoon.
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