"Paglipay" ("Crossing") is one of the most acclaimed local films of 2016. It was first shown during the first ToFarm Film Festival, in which it won Best Picture and Best Director, as well as Best Actor, Supporting Actress, Cinematography and People's Choice. Gawad Urian cited it with 11 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, two Supporting Actresses, Screenplay, Cinematography, and others. I finally got to see it during the first day of the the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, where it was one of the 12 chosen films.
Atan Dimaya is a 19-year old Aeta boy who helped his father in their slash-and-burn farming livelihood. He was going to marry his childhood friend Ani. According to Ani's parents, he was supposed to prepare a dowry (or "bandi") that included two pigs, furniture, farm tools and P20,000 cash. Atan had to go down to town to sell banana hearts and cassava, as well as find various farming jobs, in order to raise the hefty monetary requirement.
While in town, he meets Rain, a student from UP Manila who was in their town to conduct interviews with Aetas about the phenomenon of "pilaok," or intermarriages among the "kulot" (or curly-haired Aetas) and the "unat" (or straight-haired lowlanders). In his close interaction with the charming Rain, who was confiding in him her romantic woes with her boyfriend, Atan could not help but develop a big crush on her.
Being a real Aeta, Garry Cabalic was a very natural actor as he took on the lead role of Atan. His inexperience in acting is quite evident in several scenes, but that was actually part of his charm. The honesty and sincerity of his subdued performance effectively drew me into the simple story of the film. These were also the very factors that won him the awards, despite his being a neophyte amateur actor. The same is true with the even rawer Aeta actress Joan de la Cruz, who played Ani.
Anna Luna is really a charmer. I had just seen her in films like "Requited" and "Baconaua" during the last Cinemalaya films, and she really radiated warmth in those cold melancholic films. In this film as the friendly Rain, you can really see and feel why Atan was so attracted to her. Luna's highlight was that scene where Rain had a tearful breakdown while singing videoke. Luna made you feel her character's emotional vulnerability.
Even if its topic may not really appeal to a mainstream audience, this film is a great example why indie films are so interesting for me. It showed the lifestyle of the Aetas in these modern times, which I honestly do not really know about. It featured real Aetas in its cast to make it authentic, and in lead roles to boot. They spoke in their own tribal language. They prayed to their own gods like Apo Namalyari. They had their own style of slash-and-burn farming. They had their own practices regarding marriage.
This film also shows us the close interaction of the "kulot" and the "unat" particularly in business. Since the Aetas have been forced off their mountains during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, there had been more intermarriages between Aetas and lowlanders. In this film, Atan's older brother Iko was married to Lota (Natasha Cabrera), an "unat". The youngest daughter of Atan's employer Lando (Joel Saracho) married an Aeta boy. Interesting also that bit about the local legend about an encounter of an Aeta hunter named Djadig and the Virgin Mary (whom they called Apo Apang).
There are moments of modern-day humor care of Rain's best friend Cai (played by Manel Sevidal) and her obsession with posting and keeping updated on social media. There was also the cameo appearance of a popular young actor towards the end that gave those who did not know about his participation in the film (like me) a pleasant surprise.
Despite the dry vegetation of the mountains and the bleak lahar landscape, the cinematography by Albert Banzon was breathtaking. The sun was used to highlight the drama and emotion of many scenes. The best photographed scene for me was that beautiful one that showing Atan running across the field, taken from an overhead view. On the other end, an intimate scene of an Aeta woman actually giving birth at home was also shot with a great eye.
During the 95-minute running of this film, writer-director-editor Zig Dulay immersed us into the day to day lives of the Aetas in the mountains of Zambales. He also injects an urgent message against the mining industry and how it was destroying the habitat and lifestyle of the Aetas.
That final scene of the mountain being ravaged by mining equipment in the background was unsettling. You can feel Dulay's concern and respect for this indigenous people, whose culture and current condition he is preserving on film and sharing with the world. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."