The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Ang Damgo ni Elueteria: The One Long Shot Hits the Target

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

To be or not to be a mail-order-bride is the decision to be made by Eluteria nicknamed Terya in a film titled Ang Damgo ni Elueteria directed by Remton Siega Zuasola. The film shows a usual situation that many impoverished young Filipinas face when they think of helping out their families better their lives. Working abroad is the primary option. Marrying a foreigner is another option, more especially for those who are not trained for a particular marketable skill or not educated in formal schooling and faced with the lack of opportunity of employment in their remote towns. Leaving the town, your family for better fortune is totally acceptable and perceived to be necessary. And the right to be mobile is a basic right. But why is this an issue up till now. If there are no other options open, if poverty and lack of education are the reasons for leaving then it takes away choices to make… because there is no choice but to leave.

This outstanding film contributes to the thickening of film texts and discourse on a political issue, a gender issue and a human right issue. The film puts it right at our faces and does not stop until the viewer sees the point. It asks if we are not going to do anything about it. It poses the question of whether “diaspora is here to stay” as part of our culture. Or do we as a people have such adventurous minds and hearts that we want to explore the world and to access that right to be mobile, forgetting that the love for our community and country means to stay home. Or redefining love for country as sending home money and balikbayan boxes.

It appears that this film is not innocent and certainly has a stand on the issue of Filipinas leaving. The film suggests in ending that Eleuteria’s dream is likewise the dream of her younger sister. This is the beat of the town and the uninterrupted flow of their lives—it goes on and on in this island. If people stay in this town no change will happen to their uneventful lives. Leaving is worth it even if it means to sell one’s body and one’s independent spirit. Behind its wit and sense of humor Damgo ni Eleuteria pictures the sadness of a nation, when its people… when we, Filipinos, here in our own country, see nothing to stay for.

The cinematography grabs you and does not let you go until you acknowledge the film’s existence and what it is saying. Such a brilliant attack! The one long shot that hits the target! One long take of more than 80 minutes, no cuts of superb performances by an assemblage of actors being their characters.

The characters in the film from the mother, eternally lamenting on family debts that need to be paid; the father, fearing her daughter’s leaving but has no alternative scenario to paint for her daughter; the cousin, who has experienced marriage to a German and repeats the need for Terya to be sure if she decides to go; the recruiter, continuously and automatically like an old beaten record sells to Terya the idea that marrying the German means a better life for her and her family; her boyfriend, the only real deterrent for her to go but options of a future life with him is bland and nil of experience and resources; the town’s fool, who is Terya’s friend, and with his pure heart says goodbye and leads her to the boat that will take her away; and her young sister, molded by the town, the parents, relatives and friends to follow her footsteps in the future—all these characters bring out who and what Eleuteria is. A woman who cares about her family and goes away resolved that she will amount to something and give her family better lives. Though afraid, she conquers her fears and wears her battle gear to face what is out there.

This is certainly an enlightening and empowering piece of work, not only for the audiences who get the point but for the director and the actors who capture the beat in their flowing dialogue. It is so real and so honest. The movement of the narrative is powered by the actors interacting with their director in the flow of the movement through blocking, likened to a dance, a march or a parade. The sounds, the dialogue and all the other visual elements have organically been woven into this timeless piece of work.