The movie is the directorial debut of Arbi Barbarona, with script by Arnel Mardoquio (who wrote and directed some of the films we have mentioned above). This is about a Manobo family in the mountains of Mindanao who become the victims of military atrocities. Dawin (Jong Monzon) and Obunay (Malona Sulatan) live a primitive but relatively peaceful life with their three kids in a small hut, barely surviving a life of penury through hunting and farming.
Dawin tells a story to his kids about how their jungles were destroyed by greedy loggers and this is evident in the despoliation of the hills and mountains around them, all deplorably bare and bald. One day, the Manobos kill a giant boar then discover later that it’s actually one of the loggers.
They get to a community school in a distant village and the teacher is also held captive and tortured. Dawin is ruthlessly killed but the film concludes with a happy ending. Obunay succeeds in giving the merciless soldiers the violent comeuppance they truly deserve and she also gets reconciled with her surviving children.
The material is based on a true story and the real life victim is later seen being interviewed on cam as some sort of an epilogue. The film surely makes its point but, in the hands of a better filmmaker, we couldn’t help but think that this could have been more engrossing and more affecting viewing. The cinematography is quite good and we truly enjoyed the panoramic vistas of the balding mountains. But the film is seriously marred by very amateurish acting, first by the soldiers, then also by the lead couple themselves.
All the actors, whether Manobos or soldiers, are obviously not trained on how to act for the camera. A more experienced actress could have done wonders in the role of Obunay and given it a more nuanced performance, specially in the film’s final act which is largely focused on her (and which could have also benefited from tighter and more expert editing.) Sadly, Sulatan’s face here is mostly blank, even in the scenes where she’s crying but you don’t get to really feel her emotions. She's lucky that there are no other female leads among the SinagMaynila entries who can give her any kind of competition so she easily won hands down.
But still, no doubt that the core material is very powerful. If there’s strife in Mindanao today, it’s true that it’s because of the negligence of past governments, the destruction of the Lumads’ traditional indigenous way of life, the unscrupulous exploitation of their natural resources for the benefit of those in power (still happening up to now with ruthless mining) and the senseless and violent atrocities committed by the military.
The havoc and strife wrought now by the NPA, the Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Liberation Front, all these would not have happened if the people in what is known as the Land of Promise were not exploited, deprived, maltreated and abused with impunity through so many years. We can’t blame them if they are now fiercely fighting for their rights.