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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.

Jul 3, 2016

Laut Movie Review: Advocacy Movie For People To Notice The Sad Plight Of Uprooted Badjaos In A Slum Community In Pampanga

CURRENTLY BEING shown in the World Premieres Filmfest is “Laut”, the film which won the best actress award for Barbie Forteza at the Fantasporto Filmfest in Portugal. The film can be considered as an advocacy project that aims to bring to our attention the miserable plight of uprooted people from Mindanao, the Badjaos, who have become social outcasts in Pampanga.

The Badjaos are officially known as the Sama D’Laut tribe. In Mindanao, they’re known as sea gypsies, as shown in the acclaimed Lamberto Avellana 1957 movie, “Badjao”, starring Rosa Rosal and the late Tony Santos Sr. Due to extreme poverty and the armed conflict in Mindanao, many of them are displaced and moved to Manila as beggars. Eventually, they relocate to Pampanga where they get to form their own slum community on lahar-land near the Pampanga megadike in Mabalacat, making the film “Laut”, written by Carlo Catu and directed by Louie Ignacio, perfectly qualified as poverty porn.

The movie opens with a wedding scene. The bride (Erika Yu) is only about 12 years old and just had menstruation. The groom is only slightly older. The bride is shown dancing merrily but her elder sister, Nadia (Barbie Forteza), is not pleased with her marrying at such an early age. But it seems that such is the norm in their tribe. As soon as a girl menstruates, she is paired off with someone who can give her family a sizeable dowry. Barbie herself is already married and her husband is the irresponsible and good for nothing Adil (Jak Roberto).

The Badjaos live in utter penury, earning a living from begging or selling cheap jewelry. They don’t have toilets in their homes, so they just answer the call of nature on bedpans, the contents of which they just thrown on the roadside where it’s feasted on by flies and vermin. They are unschooled and they don’t even have family names. When someone gives birth, they don’t register it with the government so they don’t even remember their birthdays.

Aside from Barbie, the other characters are Perla Bautista as the ailing grandmother, Ana Capri as the mother of Jak Roberto and two other kids, Rico Barrera as Ana’s lover, plus Gabbi Garcia and Ronwaldo Martin as a young couple who just arrived from Mindanao to join the Badjao community in Pampanga.

In the hands of a more astute screenwriter, this very rich material could have been fashioned into a very involving story of struggle and survival in a very harsh, uncaring world. But sadly, the way the movie is written lacks cohesion, wasting the potentials of the very rich material. Sadly, you cannot even fully empathize with the characters, like the characters of Gabbi and Ronwaldo whose fate is not given adequate preparation. Ronwaldo is suddenly shown being a snatcher, his life ending in tragedy. The nebulous storytelling prevents the viewer from feeling mercy and compassion for the characters. But the film does offer some worthwhile performances. Barbie gives a solid portrayal of a young woman who fights for survival and she manages to make a deep connection with us viewers. Giving great support are Ana Capri as the carefree mother who seems oblivious of the plight of her children and Perla Bautista as the grandma who might be sick but continues to work hard for her grandchildren.

The film might have its shortcomings but it remains to be a powerful piece of cinema that aims to open the eyes of complacent viewers about the plight of our poor brothers who are considered pariah. The cinematography captures the filthy milieu of the impoverished Laut surroundings and the sordid misery and countless problems that its people go through day in day out. This is definitely not an escapist feel good movie that will help you forget your own problems, but it will make you appreciate whatever it is you have now compared to these poor ethnic minority of Laut people who live such marginalized lives.