MANILA, Philippines – Arnel Mardoquio’s "Riddles of my Homecoming" opens with an explanation of a Lumad belief that all souls of the departed return home to serve as guardians of the homeland.
After the prologue, Mardoquio wastes no time in setting up his puzzle. Images burst and blur, giving way not to the typical logic of a story but to moods and landscapes of pain and sorrow. The film never lets go of its own confusion, enduring as an abstract mosaic of an island’s profound agony.
The souls are linked by melancholy. They aimlessly wander, probably in recurrence of something they had to do out of necessity in their previous lives. They are consumed by love, then lust, then by prejudice, by greed, and power. They are less the guardians that the Lumad belief promised and more prisoners sentenced to an eternity of sin. Their sins are not to each other, but to the land itself.
This is Mardoquio’s purgatory. It is an abstract portrait that weaves absolute beauty with pandemonium and strife. After all, his Mindanao has already gained such a reputation of being pristine despite its crisis. Its virgin forests hide rebels and soldiers engaged in decades-old battles. Its rich mountains conceal the mines that enslave them. Its rivers flow with the waste of an exploitative industry. Its people’s smiles mask a history written with suffering caused by class and faith.
Mardoquio has persistently told stories about his island’s plight. From Hunghong sa Yuta ("Earth’s Whisper," 2008) to Ang Paglalakbay ng Mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim ("The Journey of Stars Into the Dark Night," 2012), he has been consistent in humanizing the conflicts that consume his homeland, introducing characters whose desperations are intertwined with the land’s suffering.
However, the souls in "Riddles of my Homecoming" are as broken and fractured as the limbo they roam. Mardoquio communicates not through words or slogans, but through images.
"Riddles of my Homecoming" is more than a film. It is a poem. It is performance art. Some scenes even ache with the same profundity of a painting. Its elegant rhythms belie its beautiful confusion. Mardoquio himself seems to be consumed by the riddle that is his homeland. His film has the feel of a spiritual experience, a purging of guilt and sorrow by an observer who has only his art as weapon. There is pain in the film’s silence, and prayer in its score’s repetitious drone.
Death is the only thing that is certain. It unites us all, from the powerful cult leader whose feculence is manna from heaven to the baylan who has been forgotten. Mardoquio understands its power. He acknowledges its beauty.
"Riddles of my Homecoming" appears to be his ode to it, thoroughly sincere and stirring as it comes from a heart who has observed far too many in his homeland needlessly succumbing to it.
Watch the trailer here:
Francis Joseph Cruz, or Oggs, litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters is Carlo J. Caparas’ "Tirad Pass." Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.
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