The independent cinema of the Pangasinan province, Philippines

Archive for October, 2012

Anacbanua: A hometown film heaped on with international praise by Resty Odon

It’s hard to believe that a film would make my unprepossessing hometown in North Luzon its subject (er, at least in part). It’s even harder to believe that the filmmaker of such caliber could be from the town itself. The part hardest to believe may yet be that the film is an internationally award-winning film. It has been recognized in film festivals abroad after it received accolades in the Philippines.

However, as Filipino self-appreciation goes, it’s no surprise that no one I know back home has watched or even heard of the film.

Bayambang, Pangasinan’s native son Christopher Gozum’s much-lauded film Anacbanua (2009; English title: Child of the Sun) is by now preceded by its own reputation, so writing about it this late will be a major challenge. But as far as I know, no one has written on the subject with a hometown perspective yet, so I thought I’d do the honors, being a fellow native.

Anacbanua follows the path taken by a disillusioned poet who has been an overseas contract worker in Saudi Arabia and has come home to perhaps recharge at his old place. With the sudden transplantation, he finds the whole place shorn of its former essence, lamenting the loss of its soul everywhere. Soon, it becomes apparent that this is one of those arthouse films that are plotless and mood-based or impressionistic. ‘Worse,’ it employs no dialogue but an unforgiving monologue in several traditional Pangasinense poetry (by Santiago Villafania, among others). (The film has English subtitles.)

Clocking in at 104.33 minutes, this slow-moving, meditative film unravels the uniqueness and richness of Pangasinan culture. Black-and-white images of Pangasinan icons – Lingayen City Hall, bagoong-making, green rice fields, salt-making, dalikan (clay stove)-making, San Roque Dam, Agno River, fishing, brick production – are gently introduced one after another. The montage makes this particular viewer feel at home, if not yearn for Calasiao puto and bocayo (balls of young macapuno coconut strips preserved in brown sugar) for snacks and home-style pinakbet (vegetable and pork dish in bagoong) with sauteed buro (fermented fish) on the side.

Ironically, these cultural icons are mostly used in a moving chiaroscuro of sacrifice and impending demise, to depict the death of language, if not an entire culture. With a touch of folk goth, this results in high, unrelenting seriousness. But this tone is most apt, for the film treads on a highly volatile ground. It minces no words in accusing an unnamed culprit as an imperialist mass murderer – of language and an entire way of life, that is.

The old Pangasinan province is named here in its putatively original name of Caboloan (a mass noun referring to a certain species of bamboo (bolo bamboo), which used to be found in profusion in the town’s vicinity). The result is a vision of an Edenic place under the Northern Luzon sun.

If no one I know has ever heard of this film at home, I can’t blame them, for the reason may well be valid: In the words of a younger former schoolmate whose opinion I sought: “It’s too artsy for me!” This, even while knowing the director, a B.A. Film and M.A. Theater Arts graduate from the University of the Philippines (Diliman), in person. Consider this line from the film: “They lost the salt of their imagination.” And this line: “My demesne is the Parnassus of the Muses.” Add to this the employment of theater-grade metaphors, and turning off mainstream audiences is ensured.Then again, maybe it’s the people who should be blamed for their closed-mindedness, aside from the social conditioning of the formulaic market.

As little arthouse films go, Anacbanua doesn’t have the historical and geographical sweep of Hollywood movies, no big-name stars of incandescent Eurasian beauty, and no major commercial backing. But of course, that’s the whole point of this film, which is born of fierce, unapologetic independence.

In other words, Anacbanua is too sensitive to the touch, even among locals, even though its subject is one that cries out with an urgency for, at least, a focus group discussion and, at most, a national legislative debate. The young (33 years old) Gozum supplies the most pressing need of highlighting this urgency.

By giving voice to a truly marginal subject and, worse, to one fast fading in the ethnic-cultural ICU, Gozum’s breakout work is important, for it is no less than a national breakthrough: It is reportedly the first film from Pangasinan, in Pangasinense language, no less, and a previously unimagined, highly contextualized one at that. With or without all that recognition, Anacbanua is one highly original and heroic work that should set the tone for other such works that may potentially cover the rest of the archipelago’s astoundingly diverse (over 120) regional languages, with each of their own associated fast-dying ways of life.

Through the limiting, if Pyrrhic, victory of the ruling ‘empire’ and, if I might add, the natives’ neglect of their own heritage, these islandic linguistic cultures are largely unexplored subjects in the national imagining, which is a reflection of the very sad poverty of the ruling, and exclusionary, Philippine mindset despite the staggering wealth of material outside the center.

Needless to say, with Anacbanua, Gozum has won over at least one town-mate.

*Article published at on October 16, 2012