Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cinemalaya 2009: Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe)

On paper, the material is as melodramatic as they come: an antagonistic, very resentful rattan harvester (Nonie Buencamino) constantly lashes out at his basket-weaving wife (Irma Adlawan) since she returned home after being laid off in Singapore. No longer able to endure the abuse, she rekindles her relationship with a former lover who's now her employer (TJ Trinidad), hoping he would help her out. However, the inexplicable and persistent delivery of dark-skinned fruits at her house suggest the presence of a suitor, who may or may not be her savior.

So many things can go wrong in this surprisingly short full-length film, but screenwriter-director Alvin Yapan admirably manages to avoid the pitfalls that usually accompany his chosen material. His decision to introduce elements of folklore elevates and enriches the story, and the measured pace and subdued tone he maintains throughout the film reminds one of short fiction. Which is no surprise at all: Yapan is a Palanca-winning fictionist in Filipino. The first few scenes show the filmmaker at his most confident, but the ones with Fe and Arturo, especially inside that huge rattan lounging chair--they come across as rather show-offy.

The cast give committed, textured performances, especially by Adlawan. Her part may invite less talented actresses to go on histrionics at every possible turn, but under Yapan's helming she inhabits Fe credibly, simply and without any fuss. Buenacamino similarly underplays his role and consequently shows Dante as a once-good husband who lets his disappointment and frustration at the cards life had dealt him with turn him into an unapologetic wifebeater. Though Trinidad is adequate as Arturo, one gets the feeling that the role is better suited to an older actor.

The movie may touch substantially on domestic abuse, but in my mind it actually deals with the idea of escape. The way I see it, Fe is always looking for a way to escape, be it from the harsh life she and Dante were living (as gleaned from the fact that they had to reluctantly sell their land so that she could work abroad) or the hostile situation she found herself in when she came home. This is reinforced at one point by Arturo's brother, who wants to return to Manila and escape the hardship in helping to take care of his incapacitated father. It is this need to escape that drives her to seek out her suitor, who may and may not offer her a way out. The ending reflects this clearly, and whatever choice she makes saves and dooms her. She is a truly tragic figure, much more so than what may be her closest counterpart, Persephone.

A battered wife. An abusive husband. An attractive ex-lover. An unseen suitor. In lesser hands, such a combination of these characters promise melodrama at its lowest. Luckily, that isn't the case here. Solidly scripted and directed, Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe is an effective and restrained film that offers a portrait of a woman always looking for a way out.

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