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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jan 7, 2016

Movie Review: Ari - My Life With A King - Third Kapampangan Movie To Win Best Picture In The MMFF New Wave Category

WE MISSED a lot of indie movies shown last year as we were our of the country several times. And so we’re glad and grateful to some producers who willingly lent us screeners of their films. We’ve already seen “Ari: My Life with a King” sent by Ferdie Lapuz (best picture winner in the Metro-Manila Filmfest New Wave Category) and “Imbisibol” sent by Director Lawrence Fajardo through Dennis Evangelista (best picture winner in the SinagMaynila Filmfest last March).

“Ari” is from the word Hari, pronounced without the letter H since the film is shot using the Kapampangan native language and they don’t pronounce the letter H. It is the directorial debut of Carlo Enciso Catu and produced by Holy Angels University of Angeles City and the Center for Kapampangan Studies. The story is about Conrado Guinto or Dado, considered the Kampapangan King of Poets (the version of the Tagalog Makata), who has received all sorts of awards and recognition for his works as a poet and writer but remains so impoverished.

The film opens with the Sapang Biabas Academy (where he finished high school) giving him a tribute as outstanding alumnus for culture and the arts. While he’s delivering his acceptance speech, the audience of high school students and faculty members are actually not that interested in him. They give more applause to a local dance group who performed for them.

Assigned to fetch Dado from his home in a remote lahar-covered town is Jaypee (Ronwaldo Martin), who drives a rickety motorbike. Jaypee understands Pampango but can speak only in Tagalog. They become friends and Jaypee, whose father works abroad, starts hanging out with Dado, who mentors him on how to write a Kapampangan poem for the girl he loves.

“Ari” will cater to a very limited arthouse audience as it’s definitely not at all commercial. Most viewers will react to this film the way the audience in the school’s tribute to Dado reacted: they’re not that interested. To begin with, it uses unknown actors and it conveys very serious and valid messages that turn off viewers who just want watching their own shallow kind of entertainment. “Ari” speaks about the futility of pride and man’s fondness for material things, which no one can take to his grave.

Dado may be honored by even the town’s mayor but he gets no monetary remuneration from all the poetry he does. He’s still a pauper who turns to drink and cockfight for solace, As his wife says, it’s good if they could just sell all his trophies. The story of Dado is really very sad (we find the use of the familiar Pampango folk song “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” at the end very, very touching.)

The film is about how we should all try to preserve our native language and culture, which is endangered by modernity and, in the case of Pampanga, the natural disaster of Pinatubo that forced a lot of people to leave their place in search of a better life somewhere else. The same subject can apply to the Balatagsan or the Kundiman, now things of the past which have no place in today’s people obsessed with social media.

Of all regional filmmakers, the Kabalens are the ones lording it over in the annual MIFF New Wave category for three straight years now. In 2013, the film “Dukit” about woodcarvers in Pampanga won best picture. In 2014, it was “Magkakabaung” about a coffin maker in Pampanga that bagged the trophy. In 2015, it’s the turn of “Ari”, about a Kapampangan poet. And all the actors in these movies won the MMFF best actor award: Bor Ocampo, Willy Layug and Bambalito Lacap for “Dukit”, Allen Dizon for “Magkakabaung” and now, Francisco Guinto for “Ari”. And before them, Brilliante Mendoza also did “Serbis”, “Masahista” and “Kaleldo” in Kapampangan. Hindi ba naiinggit yung mga Ilokano, Bicolano, Visayan at iba pang native language filmmakers diyan?