‘Liway’ review: What's the price of freedom?

In one scene in Kip Oebanda’s Liway, Dakip (Kenken Nuyad), while addressing a crowd of protesters outside the camp where he has lived all of his life, tells the story of how he saw a mannequin, how it looks almost like a real human, except that it doesn’t talk or move.

The little boy’s story seems innocuous in the sense that it merely relays the feeling of wonder the character has for all the things that he has been deprived of witnessing. However, his simple words have a dual meaning, especially when heard by an audience who has all the freedom to see society not just for its capacity for goodness but also for its propensity for oppression.

His words confront, forcing the question of whether we, in a regime rife with all sorts of abuses have turned into mannequins who are void of words and actions.

Astoundingly personal

Liway is an astounding personal work as it mines its narrative from the memories of Oebanda growing up within the confines of his parents’ prison.

What is fascinating about the film is that it doesn’t merely settle in drawing from the realness of the experience. It reaches higher as it bravely attempts to awaken patriotism amongst its audience through carefully constructed passages that turn love for the nation into relatable morsels. The film is blunt melodrama.

It is unabashedly emotional, sometimes to the point of being maudlin. However, it earns its tears and occasional cheers. There is clear and very noble purpose in its brazen efforts to carve sentiment from a past where politics blur with the personal as its call for communal compassion is essential nowadays.

Oebanda is a director whose films are never shallow escapist fluff.

Tumbang Preso (2014) borrows elements from the prison escape film to put a spotlight on human trafficking and the harrowing conditions of labor that follow suit. Bar Boys (2017), on the other hand, is reminiscent of the all-male buddy flicks that were prominent several decades ago, but its pleasures often give way to its intention of highlighting the forgotten nobility of the legal profession. Nay (2017) merges its horror elements with its unflinching depiction of the cannibalistic mood that pervades the current war on drugs.

Clearly, Oebanda is an inventive advocate by plying his craft as a way to echo loftier messages. Oftentimes, the messages are drowned by artistic ambitions and misdirected cleverness. Liway has Oebanda finally discovering that sweet spot where his creative endeavors seamlessly merge with his frank advocacy.

Glaiza and child actor Kenken Nuyad.

Effortless performance

It certainly helps that Liway is carried by the effortless performance of Glaiza de Castro as the titular rebel commander who has to rear a son in a precarious environment where freedom is scarce.

De Castro shifts from indisputable strength to touching tenderness with a mere mannered gesture from her evocative eyes. There is conviction in the way she speaks her lines, no matter how they become loaded with slogans. There is stirring passion when she sings her nationalistic songs, with the lyrics poignantly confusing her role as parent and patriot. Simply put, she serves as the palpable soul of the film, one that beautifully accompanies the already endearing journey of Dakip to stark realizations of how wider and crueler the world, grounding it, sometimes, even contemporizing it.

Nuyad is a revelation. He inhabits his role with both command and maturity.

The soft hues and simple framing that cinematographer Pong Ignacio lends the film allows the story to work its wonders without needless embellishments.

However, the music by Nhick Ramiro Pacis is sometimes obtrusive, especially in the moments where silence could have been more impactful than rousing melodies. Chuck Gutierrez’s skilled editing work results in a film that has a lovely and elegant flow, one whose emotional highs and lows are intuitively placed to arrive at a climax that is just gripping.

Ode to the pleasures of freedom

Liway isn’t a perfect film, but what works is downright compelling.

In Oebanda’s fervent desire to make a film as a tribute to his mother, he has also made a film that urges its audience to vacate the juvenile conveniences of being mannequins without the will for words or actions.

The film isn’t just an ode to the pleasures of the freedom that has been snatched from its characters. It is also a testament to the price that was paid for the freedom that we sometimes take for granted. – 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.