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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.

Dec 30, 2019


judy ann santos and allen dizon with child star yuna tangog

MAINSTREAM meets indie in “Mindanao”, where top actress Judy Ann Santos collaborates for the first time with acclaimed indie filmmaker Director Brillante Mendoza and internationally awardwinning indie actor Allen Dizon.

Mindanao is the second largest group of islands in Southern Philippines populated by ethnic groups called the lumads that include the Tausugs, T’bolis, Maranaws, Manobos, etc.

It was once known as the “lupang pangako” and many Christians from Luzon were encouraged to migrate and settle there in huge homesteads that displaced some of the original lumad inhabitants from their ancestral lands.

But the promised land lost its promise after it was ruined by corrupt, greedy government officials who even allowed the massive destruction of forested areas in the name of profit. This eventually led to violent conflict and insurgency, giving rise to the Moro National Liiberation Front.

The film “Mindanao” is told in live action and animation portions. The live action tells the story of a mother, Saima (Judy Ann), who will do everything to help ease the pain of her 4-year old daughter dying from the big C, Aisa (Yuna Tangog, who truly gives a gut-wrenching performance). It also shows the struggles of Saima’s husband, Malang (Allen Dizon), who’s fighting in the forefront as a soldier-medic while his young daughter is fighting for dear life in a hospice called House of Hope.

The animated portion is an allegory about two courageous Muslim brothers, both princes, who fight oppressive dragons that ruthlessly oppress their people, a reflection of the troubles that happened to Mindanao after its original native inhabitants were cruelly edged out by the abusive new settlers coming from Luzon and the Visayas.

The symbolic animation narrative often takes a backseat to the more personal, more touching story of Saima who travels by bus and by foot from Maguindanao to Davao to bring Aisa to the House of Hope. Along the way, she is accosted by soldiers at a checkpoint who pressures her to open a pail of medicines for her daughter that might expire if they’re exposed. In the hospice, she finds comfort with old and new friends in the other mothers whose sick kids are also seeking treatment there.

In turn, we see Malang fighting in actual combat and also ministering to his wounded colleagues as a medic. As we can see, both Saima and Malang are fighting their own battles and this comes to a shared dramatic highlight where Saima hugs their dying child while Malang also hugs a soldier friend (Ketchup Eusebio) who is hit by the enemy’s gunfire and dies in battle.

Among the entries in the current MMFF, “Mindanao” is the only one that is of true festival quality in terms of conception and execution. Judy Ann gives a very poignant and intimate portrait of the stoic young mother who remains dignified throughout the agonizing sickness and eventual death and burial of her only child, while her husband is also risking his very own life in dangerous mortal combat.

Judy Ann is at her most restrained here, shunning mawkish melodrama and not once displaying the florid style of teleserye acting her fans appreciate her for. We are honestly moved by that scene where she silently cuddles the remains of her daughter while seated on the pavement.

And that meeting of Saima and Malang after their daughter was buried is so heart-rending. Both Judy Ann and Allen do not have a single line of dialogue but you can feel them undergoing a gamut of emotions, marked by the devastating pain and anguish they’re going through.

It’s the style of Mendoza as a director not to pander to the audience and for his characters to face unnerving realities very quietly. We’ve seen this before in Coco Martin’s character in “Kinatay” after he witnessed a horrible murder and in Jaclyn Jose’s similarly controlled performance in “Ma Rosa” which ends with her just eating some fishballs after undergoing a very harrowing experience.

This is also evident in Allen’s interpretation of the principled soldier and caring father that Malang is. He complements Judy Ann and Yuna in all their scenes together. All in all, we’d say that “Mindanao” gets to capture most of the complex issues, both national and personal, that pervade conflicted Mindanao today.

If you’re sick and tired of the inanities among the mostly comic topgrossing entries, you owe it to yourself to see the most serious and relevant entry in this year’s filmfest with its insights about war, peace and a mother’s love whose personal struggle goes beyond one’s religious and political persuasions.