A Tale of Two Cities: Pauwi Na and Paglipay

Screening as part of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (August 16-22) this week are films from the first ToFarm Film Festival last year. The festival, organized and funded by a company who manufactures agricultural inputs, featured six films aiming to shed light on themes and issues faced by farmers. With the country’s dependence on the farming sector, the festival’s focus should be able to provide an insight into the sector and possibly push the farmer’s agenda to the fore. But while these outcomes have yet to see its fruition, the festival aims to give us films that provide a breather from the usual crop of festival films and local mainstream fare. I saw two films from the batch: Paolo Villaluna’s Pauwi Na and Zig Dulay’s Paglipay, which won the festival’s top prize.The tagline for Pauwi Na says “Ito ang pamilyang Pilipino” (This is the Filipino family). But the family at the heart of Villaluna’s film is seen not in the background of rice fields or lush mountains but amid the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, in the squalid parts of the urban poor. The family’s patriarch Pepe (Bembol Roco) plies the streets as a pedicab driver, his wife (Cherry Pie Picache) washes shit (literally) off other people’s laundry, and their grown children, a street vendor (Chai Fonacier) who constantly eyes a pair of glittering, red ladies shoes in a store where she sells cigarettes, and JP (Jerald Napoles) a petty thief, and JP’s wife Isabel (Meryll Soriano), who is blind and pregnant and who also sees and talks to a Jesus Christ (Jess Mendoza) who smokes and acts cool. This is a great ensemble, each acting a standout but complementing parts of a whole. 

The film’s interesting point (inspired by true story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer years ago) is set in motion when Pepe decides for the family to go back to the province. With hopeless trades in the city, the family embarks on a journey back to their roots using only two pedicabs, including one they stole on the early morning of their departure. The film is essentially a road movie that recalls Little Miss Sunshine in the way it weaves death tragic-comically into the narrative, but one that features the Filipino family in all their quirks, shortcomings and, however little and fleeting, their triumphs. The family sometimes drifts into fantastical slow-motion reveries of opulence rendered in black and white, that while jarring presents the kind of tragic impossibility that Filipino families below the poverty line have to contend with on a daily basis. We only get to see the countryside during the final moments of the film, the remaining members of the family looking out onto the fields. We do not know what happens next, whether Pepe’s decision would prove to be futile or not. But their journey is complete, a promise is fulfilled.

While Zig Dulay’s Paglipay (Crossing) is fashioned around a budding love story, the film is actually a coming-of-age tale of a young Aeta man named Atan (Gary Cabalic), set in the backdrop of the arid but picturesque Zambales mountains and vast rice fields, once flooded by lahar and is now regaining its beauty. Unlike the previous film, Paglipay features some scenes of farming, particularly traditions related to land preparation and harvest. It is also important to note that the Aetas in the film have raised the problem of the changing climate and its effects in their agriculture, which prompts some of them to seek for irregular jobs in the lowlands or sell their crops there.

This crossings and trips to the Banwa (town center), which usually takes an entire day by combination of foot and carriages, is where Atan meets city girl Rain (Anna Luna). He is clearly taken by her charms and kindheartedness as he accompanies Rain in the conduct of a research onpilaok, children borne out of the intermarriage of Aetas and lowlanders, an occurrence which resulted from the Aetas intermingling with the lowlands when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Atan cozies up to Rain that he eventually forgets his familial responsibility, leaving behind a wife-to-be in the mountains, whose dowry he has been saving up for with his work at the fields. In the final moments of the film, where Atan is about to make the biggest decision of his life, we are once again presented with the city’s harsher realities and the fleeting diversion it offers. Just like Pauwi Na, Paglipay seems to say that the city/civilization will break our hearts and fail us.

– Jay Rosas

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