Jhong Hilario shooting a scene from "Badil." Photo from Hilario's Instagram account
One of the films in the current Sineng Pambansa National Film Festival All Masters Edition has a curious nondescript title, and a similarly curious nondescript poster. It also has no trailer on YouTube. I do not know if this was a wise choice for the filmmakers in terms of marketing, because "Badil" is one of the best Filipino films I have seen this year.
In a small island barangay in Samar on the day before local elections, Mang Ponso is working hard to ensure his candidate, the incumbent Mayor Del Mundo, wins by making sure their sworn supporters vote as they promise. Because of the physical disabilities brought about by a recent stroke, Ponso had to be aided by his eldest son Lando when he does his rounds. When Ponso's high blood pressure causes him to be admitted in the hospital later that day, Lando has to fill in his father's duties, exposing him to the seedy underbelly of local grassroots politics, where MONEY does all the talking.
The mystery of politics in remote towns in remote provinces is tackled with vivid realism here in "Badil" (supposedly the Bicolano word for "gun"). In a small barangay, supporters of both mayoralty candidates know each other. One-thousand peso bills are used to buy votes as naturally and as openly as buying food from a market.
Money can also be used by an opponent to convince a known supporter of the rival candidate to have his finger marked beforehand so that he cannot vote anymore (in an underhanded technique called "dinamita").
The two lead actors of "Badil" both do excellent work. I do not know if actor Dick Israel really had a stroke, but his portrayal of the revered Mang Ponso is so real. He almost evokes a sense of Marlon Brando in "The Godfather" the way the residents kiss his hand, and the way his true sinister nature is hidden in his calm voice and demeanor.
Jhong Hilario plays Lando with deep sensitivity as he was initiated into the hidden realities of their town's politics. He effectively represents ambivalence and disgust as to how politics works, and resignation that there seems to be nothing that can be done about the deeply entrenched culture of political patronage.
The supporting characters were all so good as well in their roles. Nikki Gil plays Jen, a teacher and member of the Board of Election Inspectors. While she is Lando's girlfriend, her father is a staunch supporter of the rival candidate.
Yayo Aguila and Ronnie Quizon have a big family with many voters, making them a target for vote buying from both sides. Mercedes Cabral plays a double dealing operator, receiving money from both sides to campaign for both candidates.
We also see Vivian Velez, Efren Reyes Jr., Vangie Labalan in smaller roles. Everyone just seemed to fit into their roles like this film was a documentary.
It is unfortunate that "Badil" is not getting more efficient sales push from its producers to promote it and its many merits. The script of Rody Vera was so well-written, so gritty, down-to-earth, natural, and educational as well.
Director Chito Rono proves that even with a limited budget of P1.5 million from the Film Development Council of the Philippines, one can create a film with beautiful cinematography, exciting editing, artistic depth and national significance. Now that is a true master. 9/10.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."