MANILA, Philippines – There are no good men in Erik Matti’s Honor Thy Father. The film is literally brimming with scumbags and hypocrites of almost every kind. It almost seems to declare that humanity is united not by its inherent goodness but its capacity for evil.
It is an adamantly bleak and sobering film. It defiantly crawls toward cheerless resolutions. Despite its depressing implications, the film manages to capture the intense gazes it deserves, by virtue of the fact that it is exemplarily crafted by Matti and his team who are able to transform Baguio and its surrounding locales into ominous stages for men to cheat their fellow men.
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The film is surefooted, never pandering to the fictitious virtues and moralities that most audiences erroneously equate quality entertainment to. Notwithstanding the glaring absence of any clear indication of human goodness in the film, Honor Thy Father remains to be a pertinent parable on humanity in this age of secular cynicism. It is admirably brazen in its uncompromising depiction of the human condition, warts and all.
On its surface, the film depicts the desperate measures a disgraced father has to endure to protect his family. The disgraced father is Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz), a miner who abandons his own family’s crooked racket to marry Kaye (Meryll Soriano), the daughter of a businessman who is running a pyramiding business.
Edgar suddenly finds himself in dire straits when his father-in-law’s business is revealed to be a sham. Left answerable to all the investors whose money were swindled by his father-in-law, he has to do everything, including an unexpected reunion with his family and his former life, if only to make sure that his wife and child are safe.
The story is simple. It is Matti’s piercing methods that manage to create complexities within a tale that is essentially a low-rent heist fuelled by a singular man’s desperation. There is more to the film than meets the eye, since the society it paints is one that is bereft of compassion and dignity, notwithstanding the structures like religion and family that blatantly exist.
Honor Thy Father has evil as the great equalizer. From the richest to the poorest, the film portrays humanity as sinners, ready to pounce on each other at the slightest of opportunities. What the film seems to portray is how, even in sin, social classes are still relevant and evident. The film maps various forms of swindling, and what becomes noticeable are the mechanics and motivations that separate classes in their commission of crime.
Greed fuels the amorality of the rich, while the poor act for survival.
The film is not subtle in its disdain for organized deception, depicted through a religious sect led by a charismatic minister (Tirso Cruz III) who can easily talk and chant his way into the hearts of his followers. Matti puts the sect’s corrupt ways alongside Edgar’s temptations, perhaps to instill the notion that, in this ugly world, both are equally guilty, except that Edgar’s motivations are more human, as it is dramatically veiled in a twisted form of virtue.
However, despite unselfish intensions, Edgar’s quest for gold is dirtier, while the rest of the world’s sinners are simply waiting for their riches to land into their laps from the pockets of the gullible. Even in the underworld, the less fortunate are dealt unfairly.
John Lloyd Cruz is stirring here. He starts off a wallflower, a seeming non-entity in the midst of his wife’s domineering aura. It almost seems like he doesn’t belong there, in a world of asinine prayer groups and too-easy money that he has found himself in. When things get messy and he starts playing the role of a rightful patriarch, his transformation is not only believable, it is astonishing.
It helps that Matti and screenwriter Michiko Yamomoto wrote his character with depth and breadth, as opposed to the film’s other characters that seem to be more like stereotypes typical in a film that attempts to draw attention to a singular character. Nevertheless, the rest of the film’s supporting cast inhabit their characters with rousing gusto. Tirso Cruz III is particularly insidious. Soriano, as she shrinks from the limelight, is an aptly pitiful presence.
Honor Thy Father works in many layers.
As it is, it is a marvellously engineered film, one that is carefully paced to give way to an ending that is as emotionally wrenching as it is oddly elegant. Dissect its elements and it forces you to reconsider it not only as mere entertainment but as a portrait of humanity’s basest instincts, one that is not defeated but fostered by that thing called civilization. Expand it further, with consideration to its setting that somewhat removes it from any distinct locale, and it towers as a tale as universal as love and sin. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ Tirad Pass. Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios