QCinema review: Serious Pokwang shines in dark 'Oda sa Wala'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Oct 29 2018 01:12 PM

QCinema review: Serious Pokwang shines in dark 'Oda sa Wala' 1
Pokwang uses her real name Marietta Subong for her serious turn in 'Oda sa Wala.' Photo from QCinema

Sonya was a 44-year old spinster who ran their family business, Langit Funeral Services, from their house in a suburban town. She lived a quiet lonely life with her similarly quiet lonely father Rudy. One day, the body of a dead old woman was brought in for embalming services by two men in the middle of the night, and was just left abandoned. The presence of that anonymous corpse in their house wielded a strange effect on Sonya leading to an increasingly bizarre series of events.

Pokwang used her real name Marietta Subong in the credits of this film. I know she had done dramatic roles using her comedic screen name before, and she had gained critical acclaim for them. However, the director Dwein Baltazar requested her to make an exception in this case for good reason. Sonya was a serious role for a serious actress. Subong totally subsumed into the role. She gave a consistent and convincing portrayal of one lonely woman's descent into madness.

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Subong's attack on the difficult role was eerily subtle, slowly and steadily developing. She started with some repetitive behavior (chewing on her fingernails, fiddling with the cassette player, etc) and went downhill from there, reaching a crescendo in that stormy grave-digging scene. Despite the very dark nature of the plot and the disturbing psyche of her character Sonya, the natural comedienne in Subong still surfaced with welcome touches of humor to provide lightening relief from the oppressive tension of the story.

Joonee Gamboa played her eccentric father Rudy, who felt estranged from Sonya even if they lived under one roof. I guess we can see where Sonya inherited her reclusive personality. Dido de la Paz played the ruthless creditor Theodor, who constantly hounded Sonya about paying back the huge debt she owed him. Anthony Falcon played the ambulant taho vendor Elmer, the object of Sonya's suppressed romantic desires. Credit has to go to Angelita Loresco for the difficult role of realistically playing the corpse.

Cinematographer Neil Daza showed innovative artistry in his camera work, while production designer Maolen Fadul was obsessively meticulous with the little set details in Sonya's house.

Writer and director Dwein Baltazar, fresh from the box-office success of "Exes Baggage" which she wrote, went back to meditate on the subject of loneliness -- a common theme of the two previous films she wrote and directed, namely "Mamay Umeng (2012) and just earlier this year, "Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus" (2018).

Given its grim and morbid subject matter, this peculiarly offbeat film is definitely not for all tastes. Be that as it may, when viewed purely as cinematic art,"Oda sa Wala" is an excellently crafted piece.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."