At some point I tried to keep myself from leaving the theater in the middle of the film only because I do not want Alessandra de Rossi, the film’s female lead actor, who was sitting behind me to think that I am rude and ill-mannered.
I understand the low production value of the film because, as most indie films are, Independencia worked on a tight budget. The film received a grant from the French government which I believe was barely enough.
I can forgive the constrained use of Filipino, some incorrect diction, and the obviously unnatural way of delivery by the actors. However, in fairness to Ms de Rossi, she delivered. I cannot accuse her of bastardizing the language simply because she has few speaking lines.
I will not give a comment on the painted deciduous forest on an autumn as the film’s backdrop which is supposed to be set in a tropical rain forest somewhere in Luzon during the last years of Spanish colonization.
I will also leave unscathed the simulated rain, fake river, phony costumes, ever-present flying sparrows that shout ‘hey look, our setting is a forest!’ and the actors’ permed wigs.
Charity, however, has its limits.
Independencia is a film by the young director Raya Martin. It starts with a scene between a mother (Tetchie Agbayani) and son (Sid Lucero), who because of the impending war, have to leave their home and stay in the forest. They find an abandoned hut and decide to start a new life away from the hardships of war.
One day, while hunting for wild animals in the forest, the son finds an unconscious lass (da Rossi) (apparently a victim of rape or something similar) whom the son brings to their hut to his mother’s horror. The mother then dies of an unknown reason.
The two, as expected, fell in love with each other. She gave birth to a Caucasian-looking boy who has the propensity to be lost almost all the time (a third of the film’s running time is spent on finding the boy; or the father since he also easily gets lost).
One night a big storm arrives. The night, punctuated by an exaggeratingly numerous lightning and thunder, foreshadows the demise of the family. The father died of hypothermia (most probably) because of looking for his lost son. The wife who is left in the house, apparently, also dies of the same reason as her husband’s after her failed attempt to find her husband and son. The next day, the boy is found by a group of American soldiers with their Filipino guide. The boy runs away, narrowly escaping the soldier’s bullets. Finding a make-believe cliff, he jumps off and, obviously, kills himself.
This ambitious project of reconstructing a forest in a studio reminiscent of the style popular during the time is absurd if not comical. But this can be pardoned. It was a nice attempt. The lighting was good.
Nonetheless, the film did not fail to disappoint as it has virtually no decent story to tell. I thought at first it was trying to make a deconstruction of the concept of independence and liberty or it was attempting to be more intelligent than its viewers. No. It did not.
A friend pointed that probably it is giving a new light to the word ‘independence’, that living a primitive life in the forest is better than be subjugated by foreign invaders in the civilized plain. But this idea is way too simplistic and romantic to be valid.
The film with all its seriousness to imitate a forest, to speak the Tagalog during the Spanish era, to depict the lives of people who escaped the war in the forest, to tell the story of natives opting to be primitive than to be colonized by another imperialist, turned out to be insincere, a second great, trying hard, copy cat.
Nothing is worth remembering in the film except that scene between the mother (Agbayani) and a man making love in a shockingly modern dog-style. And also that scene where the son is pleasuring himself by the river, which by the way, is not my own recollection but that of my friend’s. I thought it was something else, but definitely not masturbation.
The film did not keep with the expectations. It’s one of those features that failed to challenge the sensibility of its viewers; it flopped in its desperation to entertain, and it did not hold true to the promise of its pretentious title: Independencia.
The film was screened as part of the 14th French Film Festival being held at Shangri-la Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong City.