Mapapatingin ka sa salamin sa ‘Bwaya.’ Mapapatanong ka kung paano mo haharapin ang isang trahedya (at ano ang silbi ng pagkukuwento nito). Mapapaisip ka rin kung kaya mo ba talagang tingnan sa mata ang isang buwaya.
SYNOPSIS: Divina had just celebrated her eldest daughter Rowena’s birthday, and is preparing for the latter’s upcoming graduation day, when Rowena is attacked by a crocodile. Her husband, Rex, searches the marshlands for their daughter, while the rest of the family sets up a vigil and tries to complete Rowena’s last project requirement for graduation. All struggle to come to terms with a tragedy that sends ripples of shock and unease along their water-floating community. (Based on true-to-life accounts.)
DIRECTOR: Francis Xavier Pasion
GENRE: Drama, quasi-documentary
CAST: Angeli Bayani | Karl Medina | R.S. Francisco | Jolina Salvado
Iba si Direk Francis Xavier Pasion mag-isip. Sa dami ng puwede niyang gawing pelikula, pumili siya ng mabibigat na tema: media exploitation (‘Jay’), everyday poverty and noblesse oblige (‘Sampaguita’), and sensationalism vs. truth-telling (again, yes), alongside animalistic vs. humanistic nature aka the-animal-in-the-human exploration (Bwaya). It seems that Mr. Pasion was preoccupied with the truth as it is and the truth as it’s (re)told; the truth we encounter, and the truth we tell ourselves.
Sa ‘Bwaya,’ in-your-face ang trahedya: just-turned 12-year-old Rowena Romano (Jolina Salvado) is killed by a crocodile while on her way to her floating school in the Agusan marshes. In the movie, this is accomplished without any set-up, no Jaws-type score by a musical genius, no chilling underwater crocodile shot: just an out-of-the-blue dramatic snap.
Everything before that is the setup: shot after languid shot of marsh life—bangka cutting across the water, traversing fronds of water lilies and the odd tree (director of photography Neil Daza does fantastic aerial shots)—including the foreshadowing in an accidental dunking taken by Rowena and her close companion and bangka padding partner Jennifer, while the bobbing tail of a croc quietly cuts through the water. Bago ang insidente, familiarized na tayo sa routine ng buhay nila, ang mga bangka na transportasyon at kasangkapang pang-hanapbuhay, ang crocodile eggs na ninanakaw sa pugad at pinagbibili sa crocodile farm, ang instant noodles na nagiging handa sa birthday. It’s a precarious life in the marshes, as inhabitants have to deal with extreme poverty, the danger of flooding, and having to co-exist with predators.
The suggestion is that one has to contend with predators worse than the croc: humans. Pumayag ang mga magulang ni Rowena na gawin ang pelikula in remembrance, para maalala ang kanilang anak. Sa pagkukuwento, maglalabasan ang mga isyu. Mabibigyan ng pagkakataon makita ang panig ng mga Romano—via intercut real-time interviews—sa kung paano sila tratuhin ng komunidad. Dramatized are well-intentioned authority figures (men with guns policing the area, too) that, it is suggested, could be misguided or self-serving. There’s also a callousness exhibited by one of them in referring to a corpse as “it” rather than by gender, as “her.” And of course, after a death, the buzzards circle: there’s speculation and exploitation. Magbibigay ang pelikula ng pasaring sa lahat ng mga ito.
Cheap target ba ang media as villain on the side? If you have to communicate the overbearingness and inappropriateness of a journalist on the hunt for a story, having that journalist comically trip in their eagerness to alight from a wobbly bangka is a subtle enough dig. Did the journalist have to be a large-proportioned, strident-voiced, falsely sympathetic female? Maybe not. But it gets the point across in less than a minute. We’ve already established the late director’s preoccupations; no wonder he latched on to a statement by the real Mrs. Romano about falsely being accused of accepting payment from an ambulance-chaser reporter.
Kung nagmistulang melodrama ang hysteria ni Divina (Angeli Bayani), o ang mga “crying ladies” sa pelikula, hindi pa kayo nakabisita sa libing kung saan umaapaw ang mga emosyon ng namatayan. Sa totoo lang, mas epektibo pa nga sa akin ang bawat pag-alok kay Divina ng tubig, bilang pampakalma; at mas naapektuhan ako sa pag-guzzle ng isang pitsil ng tubig ni Rex (Karl Medina) pagkatapos ng unang fruitless search para sa anak niya, bago siya nagmukmok sa sahig para umiyak. Simple lang, ordinaryong gesture, pero matinding impact. Ang climax, isang face-off between Divina at ang buwayang pumaslang sa anak niya, ay, in a word, epic. Sabihin na lang natin na naipamukha kay Divina (at through her, the viewer too) ang kanyang pagkatao.
Walang saysay at maaaring tingnan na pilit ang mystical aspect (interspersed throughout the film is the narration, presumably of a tribal elder, of a Manobo crocodile legend; also, the discovery of Rowena’s body is facilitated by a Manobo medium). Admittedly, the Manobo legend is like the fog that permeates the marsh, a little wispy and tenuous, but it’s part and parcel of the fabric of their life—these are the stories tribal ancestors told each other to explain the world around them. If anything, it reminds us that we humans make up stories (sometimes fantastical) to explain events.
Every death brings with it inevitable questions; medyo malalim ang uungkatin. Did Pasion fall into the same trap of exploitation that he has repeatedly decried? Did his direction, his attention to certain details, betray manipulation? Mautak ang late director. As far as ‘Bwaya’ is concerned, kitang-kita ang perspektibo niya, at sa tingin ko wala namang masama doon. Hindi ito straight documentary, kaya may stylized elements. ‘Bwaya’ is Pasion’s attempt to tell a story straddling the dispassion of documentary reportage and the emotion of a film. And he did a good job of it. ♦