Free Friday? Watch this critically-acclaimed Cinemalaya movie
“Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. One-third of the water in the sea became blood.”- Revelations 8:8
The day after a tempestuous squall, a peaceful, quiet fishing village wakes up to the overwhelming sight of the sea that had turned red. Most villagers – especially the kids – start picking thousands of apples of unknown origin that had been washed ashore. A few people in the island think that they are manna from heaven. Others however believe that it is a bad omen from the baconaua (a giant sea serpent), ‘a creature of myth.”
And that’s how Joseph Israel Laban’s film Baconaua starts.
The film garnered three awards at the 2017 Cinemalaya Film Festival. It was awarded the Special Jury Prize for “its very engaging depiction of a small fishing village struggling to achieve community and continuity in the face of superstition, crime and violence,” according to the citation of the festival.
Its director was awarded for Best Direction “for the effective summoning of the resources of cinema to depict a sleepy fishing village reeling from the auguries of superstition while confronting the ugly specter of crime and violence.”
Baconaua cinematographer TM Malones shared the Best Cinematography Award with Respeto’s Ike Avellana for their “powerful application of light and shadow and effective rendering of shots and images.”
In an interview with Rappler, director Joseph Israel Laban (Cuchera, Nuwebe) – who was a Fulbright scholar said, “We wanted to explore this confluence of different influences: with pre-colonial beliefs, Western religion, and biblical metaphors like snakes and apples. But it has layers of meaning from the literal giant sea serpent of myth (the baconaua) to the more insidious monsters walking among us.” Laban holds a Master’s degree in documentary filmmaking from New York University where was also a recipient of the NYU Graduate School for the Arts and Sciences Scholarship.
Young (albeit multi-awarded) actress Teri Malvar (Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, Legally Blind, Hamog) who depicts the role of Dian, 14, one of the daughters of the missing sea patroller, said in an interview via FB messenger that “Baconaua was truly an adventurous experience as we shot most of our scenes at sea: whether the current was fast or the waves were calm or not.”
They shot the movie in Maniwaya, Marinduque for seven days said the film’s lead actress Elora Espano (Ninja Party, Tandem and Seklusyon) during an interview at the UP Film Center. She depicted the role of Divina, the eldest among three siblings, who is forced to be the family breadwinner at age 16.
“Though we got tired from rowing the boat back to the first position of the frame, I enjoyed it nonetheless. I learned how to swim in this film (and so did Elora) and was able to dive really deep for the underwater shots! We were taught well by the locals.”
Espano said that they had to stop shooting because they had to contend with real squalls (the ones onscreen are real!) and couldn’t cross over to two other location sites in other islands. They took a two-week break during the Yuletide season, and resumed for another three days at the start of the year 2017.
The role of Dino, the youngest among the siblings was depicted by theater actor, JM Salvado (Noli Me Tangere, Florante at Laura, Ondoy). Now a sixth grader, JM celebrated his 11th birthday during the shoot.
Among the siblings, he’s the only one who holds on to the hope that their father is still alive. He shows compassion towards the stranger, who speaks in a language he doesn’t know (Chinese).
Asked about his role, he said, “I hate the sea because it took our father. I walk around the islands aimlessly in the hope of finding him. I am initially curious about the stranger so I follow him, then I discover that he has a deep wound. I don’t know that he is bad person; I just want to help him.”
“Instinct drove him to help the strange man. He imagines his father to be in a similar situation and wants someone to help him, too,” said Laban.
Just like in Thop Nazareno’s Kiko Boksingero, which was an entry in this Cinemalaya Filmfest, the audience of Baconaua have to try to make sense of things and fill-in gaps.
“This was intentional. We wanted to show a snapshot of someone's life as they come to terms with the death of a loved one. We wanted to stay with the here and now because that is how you experience life and grief.”
A lot of viewers complain about the darkness of the shots, but others appreciated it and knew it was deliberate. Among them, satisfied directors Sari Dalena, Keith Sicat, Topel Lee, and actor Hector Macaso.
“For us, it’s less about exposition and more about experiencing it: The mood. The stillness on grief; how it sometimes feels like it can darken even the sunniest of days.
We deliberately stayed away from tradition plotting (like) foreshadowing as a device. In real life, things happen without convenient warnings. In small, subtle ways, we always try to subvert traditional scripting and plotting when we can,” Laban said of him and co-writer Denise O’Hara.
If there’s anyone who appreciated the film, it was Padmashri Dr. Girish Kasaravalli – the chair of the main competition jury -- who said prior to the gala screening at Cinemalaya that even if the film is in Filipino, he liked Baconaua because of its “cinematic language.”
Catch Baconaua at the UP Film Center on Friday, 1 September and find out why there’s more to it than just squalls, apples and snakes. Screenings at 2:30, 5 and 7 pm will be followed by a Q & A with the director and the cast. – Rappler.com
Susan Claire Agbayani is a freelance writer who contributes to newspapers, magazine, and websites. She is finishing her thesis, an unauthorized biography of a Filipino band, for her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University. She lives in Quezon City with her son Gide and their cats.