By Francis Joseph A. Cruz

Home is where the hut is

Posted on July 03, 2015

Movie Review
An Kubo sa Kawayanan
Directed by Alvin Yapan

ALVIN YAPAN’S An Kubo sa Kawayanan is deceptive in its simplicity. The story revolves around a woman, played with intriguing ambiguity by Mercedes Cabral, who lives alone in a hut in the middle of a bamboo grove. She embroiders for a living, opting to remain in her humble home while the rest of the world is moving out. Nothing really happens in the film, except for a few visitations which forces the woman to open up and reveal, at least to the audience, the workings of her playful mind.

The narrative is laced with a bit of romance, where two suitors -- Gary (Marc Felix), a local who is about to leave for work abroad and Larry (RK Bagatsing), a documentary filmmaker from Manila -- attempt to woo her one at a time. Little do they know that her heart belongs to her bamboo hut, which she treats like a sentient being, capable of wit and tricks to force her to stay.

The film functions like a parable. It works not because it is intricately designed but because it is pregnant with layers. Yapan has never been interested in treating filmmaking as merely a tool for banal storytelling. As an awarded fictionist, he knows very well that cinema has functions that are unique to it. The medium’s utility of sight and sound that are married into a coherent narrative by perceptive editing, opens to the artist a vaster canvas for whatever explorations or revelations he intends.

In this case, Yapan makes most of the canvas by enriching a taut tale with various sensations that elucidate a certain beauty that is unworthy of abandonment. Yapan needs to validate his heroine’s strange infatuation by filling her world with the loveliest of details, from rhythms and melodies that mold an atmosphere of contentment to images of nature that seduce.

However, An Kubo sa Kawayanan does not operate as a simple portrait of humble nature’s persisting beauty. The hut is more than just an object of fascination. It represents home, which the woman embraces with all her heart, and her suitors are too ready to abandon. The genius of Yapan’s film is that it steadfastly keeps the woman’s perspective as his audience’s perspective. We hear her thoughts. We see her dreams. We feel her soul. We are part of her conversations, detecting insincerities and motivations.

The film then transforms into something else, something deeper than just a simple story or sensory experience. It becomes a critique, an insightful observation as to the mind-sets of people who leave and have left but returned to their homeland, as represented by the woman’s two suitors. In a way, Yapan molds the film both as an ode to a homeland, as defined by its unique language and visual textures, and an elegy to those whose souls opted for migration, whether for necessity or whim. There is purpose in Yapan’s decision to keep the film entrenched in his native Bicol, as it only reinforces the melancholy of being left behind and alone, absent ulterior motives except for love.

Yapan does not stop there. His characterizations lack the complications that can navigate grand epics. But they are enough to echo personal emotions. Yapan’s journey as a filmmaker has not been easy. His films are ambitious, marked by flights of imagination and creativity that seem outrageous given the norms of filmmaking in the Philippines. Amazingly, Yapan manages to give birth to films, some of which are beautiful monsters while others are evidently misshapen but never lacking the spark of wisdom that inspired them.

In the middle of An Kubo sa Kawayanan, the documentary filmmaker laments his condition as a struggling artist, one who is forced to mine the homeland he has conveniently abandoned for the sake of a non-existent career in an industry that favors wealth and connections. In a way, Yapan speaks through the documentary filmmaker, also through the woman who scoffs at the filmmaker’s mostly selfish endeavors and imagines herself being raped by the filmmaker’s insensitivities, and finally through the solitary house who remains quiet amidst the verbal exchanges that reveal the hypocrisy of cinema.

An Kubo sa Kawayanan is undoubtedly lovely, especially with its seamless mix of brash eroticism with its brash displays of exotic practices. It would however be ill-advised to stop at the film’s loveliness, because its subtle sadness is infinitely more profound.

An Kubo sa Kawayanan took home most of the awards in the Filipino New Cinema category of the 2nd World Premieres Film Festival 2015 at the Centerstage, SM Mall of Asia on Sunday: Best Film; Best Actress (Mercedes Cabral); Best Editing (Benjamin Tolentino); and and Best Cinematography (Ronald Rebotica). The festival films are being screened until July 27 at theaters at the SM Mall of Asia, SM North EDSA, SM Megamall, SM Southmall and SM Manila. For more information about the festival and festival schedule visit www.wpff.ph.