It wouldn’t be strange to find a Filipino working aboard a cargo or cruise vessel plying international waters.
In fact, the Philippines is on top nation in providing maritime labor to international shipping lines. The maritime industry has also made an indelible dent on local culture, with bits and pieces of stories of families either succeeding or being broken because heads of the family disappear for months to work aboard ships, making appearances in novels, television shows, songs or plays.
Glaring lack of representation
What is most surprising, considering the number of Filipino seafarers and their effect on Filipino culture and society is how there are almost no films made about the lives of seafarers. So many filmmakers have tackled the delights and sorrows of land-based overseas workers, but none have ventured to dig into the vast wealth of experiences of those who have decided to spend months far not just from their families but from dry land beyond the sadness of those they have left behind.
There is more to the lives of seafarers than the gnawing abandon and blistering temptation felt by their wives as have been exploited by films like Elwood Perez’s Lupe: A Seaman’s Wife (2003). There are complex issues here, from the deeply-rooted injustices experienced by seafarers at the hands of not just their employers but also an entire judicial system that was supposed to protect them in the multitude of cultures, religions, and prejudices that they have to put up with within an enclosed vessel.
With Marineros, director Anthony Fernandez takes it upon himself to solve the glaring lack of representation of the seafaring sector in Philippine cinema.
The intentions are undoubtedly good.
The film, however, could have been better with some focus and much-needed elegance. Fernandez clumsily jams the film with all the obvious issues, using a family where all the breadwinners are or were seafarers to tell his stories of the ills that plague the specific labor sector. The unfortunate result of the film’s lack of restraints is a shapeless and plodding film where every shift in emotion, whether it be towards joy or sadness, is utterly predictable and routine.
The conflicts aren’t novel and products of clear products of lazy writing. For example, the source of one family’s financial ruin is – like in so many other films – a pyramid scheme scam that victimizes a seafarer’s wife. A young daughter again becomes pregnant. However, there are also threads that seem more ardent, such as the storyline of the flirtatious cruise waiter who is befriended by an overworked gay performer. The narratives sadly more often collide than converge.
This isn’t to say that Marineros is appalling.
Its earnestness is its saving grace. While the dilemmas and the drama are rote, the sheer tenacity of Hernandez in detailing each and every passage of emotion from frustration to desperation to comfort without so much a whiff of sophistication and artifice produces simple pleasures. The film has all the delights of a made-for-TV melodrama.
It doesn’t deserve the big screen, but it also doesn’t deserve to be shunned for its meager but sincere ambitions.
Touch the surface
The stories in Marineros are definitely ones worth knowing.
That the film doesn’t explore the deep issues of the seafaring community with more curiosity and concern is its biggest fault. It only touched the surface, preferring simple pleasures and easy drama over what could have been more enduring discourse on a sector that deserves a deeper voice in cinema. — 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.