‘Asintado’s’ religious backdrop is both a hit and a miss in some levels. Panoorin para ma-appreciate ang isa sa mga makukulay at interesting na tradisyon sa Pilipinas.
SYNOPSIS: (from the official site) In the middle of the preparation for Taong Putik Festival, a young man penniless and in love, takes on a drug courier job that goes terribly wrong. To save him, his mother now makes the most difficult decision of her life.
DIRECTOR: Luisito L. Ignacio
WRITER: Socorro Villanueva
CAST: Aiko Melendez | Gabby Eigenmann | Miggs Cuaderno | Rochelle Pangilinan | Jake Vargas | Benjie Felipe | Madz Nicholas | Maita Ejercito | Jak Roberto
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” goes an old English nursery rhyme. Supposedly it is a lesson for children not to mind taunts in the schoolyard as this will eventually (usually) lead to a more physical altercation. Perhaps this was before verbal abuse was considered equally, if not more damaging to physical harm. The saying also does not consider how powerful words are to call people into action, and such is the case in Asintado (also known as Between the Eyes, if this is not spoiler-y enough), where words result in a literal stick and a stone breaking a bone.
Set in rural Bibiclat, Nueva Ecija, in the middle of the town’s Taong Putik festival, the movie centers on a poor family of three: Tonio (Jake Vargas), his mentally-challenged younger brother Etok (Miggs Cuaderno) and their mother Julia (Aiko Melendez). Out of pity for his hardworking mother, Tonio agrees to serve as a drug mule for the corrupt barangay captain Carias (Gabby Eigenmann) to earn money. Unfortunately, the job goes wrong, making Tonio dead man walking. Now it is up for Julia to take matters into her own hands. Or to be more accurate, she took matters into her own mouth, because Julia, first portrayed as a woman who has apparently lost her fire, apparently has her strength in her words and in her faith and religiosity.
“Apparently” is key word in that last sentence, because this is not clearly developed in the film, only surfacing at the most convenient time where everything is on the line (which is, towards the end). It is not the case of an inner fire rekindling. Rather, it is more of the usual desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps the latter is the intention after all, because that’s practically what the lyrics of that horrendous theme song was trying to tell. But then that does not explain the supposed build-up as seen in, say, the past conversations between Julia and Etok. This is an area where Asintado misses its mark.
Speaking of marks, one element that can be a hit-or-miss (mostly a miss), is its use of a religious festival as the main backdrop. On the one hand, from a film noir perspective, this does provide a good setting to commit a crime (the lighting and camera work did a good job establishing that genre; everything was so literally dark). It’s also ironic, and in a good way. On the other hand, one cannot also help but feel a bit uncomfortable in the subtle suggestion that religion justifies actions, however criminal it may be. This is seen in that prayer circle where we see Julia asking God to give them permission to use their hands.
Also questionable: the role of Etok as the amoral character in the story. Halfway through the film, one can already guess his role in the climax. And yes, it went there.
still has acting chops to
portray a widow that has
the worst stroke of luck
Asintado did hit some things right, though. Melendez, in her big-screen comeback, proves she still has acting chops to portray a widow that has the worst stroke of luck. Vargas’ performance is also commendable. It is hoped that the Filipino audience will see more of these two in the future. Props also go to its director of photography Luisito L. Ignacio. As mentioned earlier, the noir theme can be seen in the entire movie. Hands down the best scene, though, is the one where Julia’s eyes are just the focus amidst her muddied face. Perfect.
This movie also sheds light to one of the country’s unique and interesting traditions. At the very least, Asintado is a lesson in culture and faith. And that is perhaps the most important thing.