Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong: Children of the pine-covered loam
In “Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong,” two Benguet orphans living with their invalid grandfather and jobless brothers traverse the mountain fastness in order to get to school everyday. They brave rough terrain, deep forests, roaring rivers, and a precarious hanging bridge to be able to make it to school and learn the day’s lessons. The rigors of travel do not break the kids, who have stout hearts and even stouter spirits. But they break the viewer’s heart, who can only watch disbelievingly at heroism that comes from so lightweight a carriage and so tender an age.
Directed by Mes de Guzman, “Kalimugtong” is poignant and moving. Here is a social document of poverty without the silly idealization or the agitprop condemnation. It presents poverty and hardship merely as a given, something that melds with stunning nature, which, incidentally, carries within itself harshness and cruelty.
De Guzman, of course, is no naturalist. He’s not a pantheist who makes a temple out of nature, no matter the human sacrifices made in its name. In fact, he has shown a strong, adamant streak of humanism in portraying how men—and mere children at that—could face, withstand, endure, and even renew nature.
De Guzman knows whereof he speaks. In “Batang Trapo,” he similarly portrays two street urchins who survive the severity of the streets through sheer spunk and sheer humanity. The same humanity shines through in “Kalimugtong,” despite the change of locales.
Of course, the feature format affords De Guzman a more expansive medium with which to dramatize the classic battle between man and nature, man and want. And in setting his film in the expansive backdrop of Benguet, he achieves a powerful joining of natural location and human condition. He achieves something close to landscape art.
As in “Batang Trapo,” the camera in “Kalimugtong” is almost non-intrusive; it’s cinema verite without the pretentiousness or ponderousness. The production design perfectly captures the extremes of nature—its terrible beauty, its occasional detachment and cruelty, and its innate goodness.
But “Kalimugtong” works mainly because of the acting. The ensemble of actors was mainly drawn from the Mountain Province, and De Guzman achieves a rawness of form and depiction through his greenhorn actors, such as Rhenuel Ordoño, who plays 10-year-old Potpot compellingly, Analyn Bangsi-il, who plays the elder sister, Manang Jinky, with conviction, and Hallen Sumingwa, who plays the two kids’ kind teacher as if kindness were her second nature.
Perhaps the most moving part of the film is when the children try to make do with sayote and just about anything they can harvest from the wild flora all around them while waiting for their brothers who are trying to earn a living in the town center many miles away. The children are literally home alone, struggling to keep the faith while tending to their bedridden grandpa. In the face of so much bleakness, the children carry on, without their heart missing a beat of hope.
Ultimately, “Kalimugtong” is a testament to beauty and hope. How could these beautiful children have survived with their beautiful humanity intact? The film shows how. “Kalimugtong” shows the way to hope. — Lito B. Zulueta