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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.

Jan 4, 2017

Oro Review: A Special Lenten Presentation At Christmastime

DURING THE CHRISTMAS holidays, viewers usually opt to watch a feel good movie in keeping with the festive season. But if you want the opposite, then we strongly suggest that you watch “Oro”, the perfect antithesis to the feel good movie since it will leave you angry and disturbed during the holidays. Reeking with social relevance and crying out for justice, this cause-oriented movie whose aim is to expose a crime is guaranteed to turn the Christmas season for you into the Lenten season. This is a perfect companion piece with Teng Mangansakan’s Cinema One entry, “Forbidden Memory”, about the Malisbong Massacre in Sultan Kudarat in 1974.

Based on the true story involving the massacre of gold miners in a barangay called Gata in Caramoan, Bicol almost two years ago, “Oro” opens on the lead character, Joem Bascon as Elmer, selling the gold he has obtained from their village’s small mine. He’s preparing for his wedding to his teacher sweetheart Linda (Mercedes Cabral) who, unknown to him, is already pregnant. The leader in their village with its small-scale mining operation is Kapitana (Irma Adlawan), who buys all the gold the villagers mine and sells them to the BSP (Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas). She has a rival gold buyer (Sue Prado), who buys gold at a lower price.

The peaceful life of the villagers is shattered when a group of armed men called Patrol Kalikasan, claiming to be working for the government, order them to stop mining, their main source of livelihood, because they are destroying the environment and they have no special permit. The situations get tense, very tense, and you can easily detect that this will lead to a very violent and bloody climax.

This is a story brimming with anger, rage, tears and grief. It wants you to be directly affected by the oppression, the injustice, the atrocities that happened to the miners. Unfortunately for us, though, we don’t find the movie that effective in agitating us. Maybe, in the hands of a more competent filmmaker and a more intelligently analytical script, this could have been a more potent and incendiary kind of filmmaking.

But as it is, we can’t help but get bored while watching it. We don’t even find the characters in it that sympathetic. Elmer is supposed to be a former rebel turned small time miner, but judging from the way Joem Bascon looks, well fed, overnourished and studded with gold earrings, he looks more like a yuppie working in Makati. You cannot feel that the miners are really hard up since they don’t really look it and continue to indulge in drinking. The scene where the thugs, who act like the usual villainous goons in local action flicks, butcher and cook a dog, draining its innards, is also very repulsively off-putting.

The villagers here should be sui generis but this quality is hard to do in movies. It should also be reflected in the casting where you fell, at the end of the movie, that you have really gotten to know these people well and you feel so compassionate for all of them. How “Oro” won the best ensemble acting award is beyond us. Truth to tell, among the miners, the only one who for us really inhabit his character is Sandino Martin. We didn’t recognize him and it took a while before we realized he’s the same guy in “The Dog Shooter”. As for Irma Adlawan winning the best actress award, we’d rather not comment since we’ve always liked her acting, but not in this one.

If you want to know more about what happened in Gata, Caramoan on that fateful day of March 22, 2014 where four miners named Julio and Rene Labiano, Salem Virtuz and Jassie Brondial were ruthlessly murdered, we suggest that you watch that documentary titled “Caramoan Massacre” about the incident that is currently available on youtube. It is definitely much more informative, more enlightening, more affecting.

There is an interview with Rebecca, the widow of Julio Labiano, and her three orphaned children that will surely break your heart. What she said in that docu is obviously what inspired the aria of the grieving Mercedes Cabral in “Oro”. The Commission on Human Rights has found that an injustice was indeed committed by the merciless Sagip Kalikasan Task Force that was authorized by Gov. Migz Villafuerte.

But as we all know, the wheels of justice in this country, grind exceedingly slow and is quite lopsided (as another filmfest entry, “Kabisera”, also shows), so let’s all pray that the orphans of the Gata Massacre will finally get the justice they surely deserve for the cold blooded murder of their loved ones.