By Joseph Lazaro Garcia

Mad world

Posted on December 20, 2013

Movie Review Mga Anino ng Kahapon Directed by Alvin Yapan

DIRECTOR and writer Alvin Yapan has diagnosed Filipinos with a case of schizophrenia.

In his new film, Mga Anino ng Kahapon -- a finalist in the Metro Manila Film Festival’s New Wave section -- he discusses schizophrenia, a mental disorder characterized by paranoia and hallucinations, and paints a picture of an individual’s breakdown, but relates this to a nation’s slow descent into madness.

The director has said that he finds it shocking that many Filipinos want Marcos back. According to a press release, “This is the schizophrenia of the Philippine nation I would like to tackle in the film: we ended the dictatorial regime of Marcos, and yet we are nostalgic for it at the same time. It is like we are inhabiting two different realities.”

In the film, Ed (played by TJ Trinidad), leaves his wife Irene (Agot Isidro) for greener pastures abroad. His departure takes away Irene’s sense of security and leaves her increasingly paranoid. Her paranoia slowly escalates into the hallucinations of schizophrenia, and her symptoms begin to drag her family into the labyrinthe of her mind. Interestingly, her paranoia and hallucinations are connected to her experiences during Martial Law as a child of an activist, and a young activist herself.

Her hallucinations are characterized by soldiers and spies breaking into her home, or of refugees knocking on her door for help. Although her family seeks treatment for Irene, her mental disorder itself prevents her from helping herself, as she thinks that her medicines are simply ways to control and poison her. Ultimately, after an episode where she gets lost in a forest and after she breaks down, Irene gets a more long-term treatment and joins a support group.

It is no surprise for drugs and pharmaceuticals to play such a big role in a film as it is co-produced by Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, Inc. However, the product placement is thankfully not very blatant, and leaves the film to play on its own without becoming a long-winded commercial.

The director tries to make powerful statements in the film about how schizophrenics and Martial Law are observed in the Filipino context. It was discussed during a preview screening that the filmmakers did not want to make a pure advocacy film, nor did they want to be heavy-handed in its message. As a result, the decision to remove a hammy fist also removed the sense of urgency, desperation and pathos in depicting an individual’s surrender to mental disorder.

Agot Isidro’s performance may probably be closer and more honest to the real picture of schizophrenia, but it makes for a less compelling picture. On the other side of the coin, Martial Law atrocities are mentioned more than in passing, but the characters’ conversations about human rights violations never go into detail, and so the restrained and prim approach to Martial Law feels half-hearted at least, and very careful at most.

During the film’s conclusion, Irene cries out to her husband during a support group meeting, saying that she dreaded being looked at as a mere patient and not as a wife and mother. Perhaps the film can cry out the same way. It plays out less like a film, but more as a well-made, well-documented, and well-acted case study.