By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Signal Rock
Directed by Chito Roño
A VERITABLE who’s who of the Philippine indie film scene’s repertory of players, makes this warm, feel-good feature by veteran director Chito Roño about family and community in a poor, remote Samar island village, a delight to watch. Unfortunately, it is unevenly photographed. In especially poignant scenes, such as the quietly desperate, lovelorn encounter in the harsh big city between our hometown hero, Intoy (Christian Bables) and his beloved Rachel (Elora Espano), their beautifully expressive faces are inexplicably cast in murky shadow. They might as well have been wearing bags over their heads.
It happens again when the hapless Intoy asks his prickly neighbor Damian (Mon Confiado) about the fraudulent certificate of land transfer which Damian’s sweet-natured brother Paeng, the favored son, had promised Intoy he could use to fake his OFW sister Vicky’s (voiced by Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo) capability to support her Finnish daughter. Spoiler alert: Paeng was recently beheaded which is why Intoy must deal with the less personable Damian. This scene is played out in the oppressive darkness of the murdered man’s home and one, needlessly it turns out, fears for Intoy’s safety.
Nothing untoward happens aside from the beheading. Wala lang. The conflicted and complex Damian is surprisingly amenable to the fraudulent use of his family’s estate, and gives Intoy the papers in good faith. Paeng’s beheading was an unaccustomed blip on the veritable flat line which marks daily existence in this 5th class municipality where electricity is regularly cut off at night. The town jail is kept unlocked and is more of a drying out cell for drunken young bucks brawling during the occasional baile (public dance) or discorral(so-called because the dance floor is fenced in), which Intoy emcees. He is so popular in his miniscule pond, that even his petty crimes like mischievously stealing a neighbor’s chicken for pulutan (bar chow) at the bilyaran (pool hall — really just a grass shack) warrant only a few hours in the unlocked jail cell — more like a time out for a misbehaving child. During the daily blackouts, the jailer Jose (Dido Dela Paz), who is also the best buddy of Intoy’s father Tatay Jamin (Nanding Josef), goes home, as do all his prisoners.
As Rody Vera’s charming screenplay shows, everyone knows everybody’s business, and apparently it is in order to dispel the unaccustomed mystery of whodunnit and what happened to poor Paeng’s head, that the spoilsport Damian belatedly confesses that he-dunnit and even produces his brother’s skull. He is accordingly jailed until a typhoon wrecks the sorry facility, upon which he is released into the custody of the parish priest Fr. Bebong (Lao Rodriguez) who always seems to have a virile male visitor in the refectory. No one looks askance at this since, presumably, they are all consenting adults and it seems to be a priestly prerogative. Fr. Bebong also pronounces that since the victim Paeng’s widow has already left the island, no one is pressing charges against Damian for his gruesome fratricide. Wala lang.
Values in this anonymous little village are as porous as the coral and limestone of the eponymous “Signal Rock” (actually the very photogenic Magasang Rock Formation in Biri, Northern Samar). Young marketable women are routinely expected to sacrifice their virtue in order to support their families, like Mommy Chi, the delightful Keana Reeves; or Intoy’s beloved Rachel, whose father sends her to work as a cashier in an Olongapo nightclub with instructions not to come home until she has hooked a well-off foreigner. On the other hand, they are cautioned about being strangers in a strange land, like Gina (Mara Lopez), who marries a German old enough to be her grandfather in the hopes that she might someday bring her true love, a local boy, to Europe too; or Intoy’s sister Vicky, whose Finnish husband turns out to be abusive.
The crux of the plot is that Vicky, as a battered wife in the supposedly progressive and enlightened social welfare state of Finland, must behave as if she is in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Her husband Ysman (yes, that is his name) cheats on her and beats her so that she is compelled to seek sanctuary in a Catholic church and to deal with an unsympathetic Finnish police and bureaucracy who discriminate against wives and mothers who are victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, it rings false and may even be libelous against unwitting Finland which probably has no idea that such calumnies have been cast upon it.
Rody Vera’s script would have us believe that Vicky, as the wife of a Finnish citizen, is not entitled to spousal or child support for her Finnish daughter, nor to any state services as a battered woman and mother of a Finnish child. But then the entire plot hinges upon the fiction that that it is her hometown of loveable eccentrics who must heroically conspire with Intoy’s family to fool the inexplicably monstrous Finnish government into believing Vicky can support her Finnish daughter by her lonesome. Someone is lying here. In another leap of irrational plot movement, after they have sold their only landholdings to finance Vicky’s move to Finland (which is why the nasty older brother claims his share of Vicky’s remittances since he gave up his patrimony to fund her move), Intoy whines that she has to come back home.
But there would not be a story otherwise. Wala lang.
MTRCB Rating: R-13