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

Ang Panggahasa Kay Fe: A rupture of faith

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By Tito Genova Valiente

Perhaps, it is because Alvin Yapan is not a woman that he is able to form a discourse of enchantment around the violence against women. Perhaps, it is because Alvin Yapan is a man that it is enchanting to see him able to put the tormented position of women in our city in a new light, in an acutely searing light that is part magical and part surreal.

The core of the story is very simple: a wife comes home after working for a few years abroad to a husband who seems not to welcome him back. Dante, the husband is protective only in the traditional sense of a man being physically present around a woman. Something, however, seems to bother them. Tension, not love, frames the husband and the wife. Up to that point, the story is common.

This theme about abuse of women has been abused by mainstream cinema to the point that instead of giving voice to those who are abused, those films have simplified the issue at the level of the personal. Yapan’s language is never about simplifying and the simple.

Something odd and daring comes in the narrative: the fantastic. The woman, Fe, who is not treated right by her husband, starts receiving gifts from an unseen person. The first time the basket of fruits appears, Fe’s reaction is to be puzzled. She thinks of the basket as a gift from someone, not exactly an admirer but someone who cares about her. Fe tells Dante about this but, surprisingly he does not get what Fe is telling him. The second time the basket comes, Fe expresses her surprise but nevertheless accepts the basket. She informs Dante of the gift. By this time, the man reacts strongly to the thing. He believes the gifts are from Fe’s suitor, who denies all this. Dante feels Fe is not telling the truth.

The woman is helpless with the gift and helpless with the fact that she has no explanation for it. The man can explain though where the gift comes from. It is easy for him to explain the gift. To keep out of trouble, the woman has to follow the language of the man: that gift is loaded with malice and should not be there at their doorstep. To follow the logic of this language, the woman who receives that gift should make sure that she disposes of them. The problem is the gift will continue to come and the man/husband will continue to insist that it is gross gift and that his woman is betraying her.

What will the woman do? In a fit of dementia and despair, Fe decides to bury the basket. It is an extended scene, reeking of dementia and distressing us with its lack of logic. But where does logic reside in spaces where men are doomed to dominate and women are fated to be punished for breach of conduct only men can judge?

And so, there is Fe, digging the soil with a bolo, heaving and crying, and scratching the ground with her hand until a hole can hide the basket. It is an annoying act only for those who have other solutions.

Fe would soon find out that, like many other women, the chances of happiness and being understood in this world are few, if not absent.

Alvin Yapan’s “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” takes off from this absence of choices, swings the narrative about domestic abuse from the prose of the male-ordained world and its ready explanations into the poetry of folklore, ravishing with its possibilities. This is a grand decision for the director (who is also the writer) and one that wins for him a touching and unique way of viewing women and the men who make their life real and unreal.

In the world of Fe, no one can help her. This is the real world and one that demands, if we use Luce Irigaray, that Fe should assume her feminine role deliberately. But it is also a world that is not ready for that deliberate act. She approaches a priest and we just overhear their observation for a while. The camera unsettles us because it stays from afar. When the camera draws us near, the priest tells Fe that he knows that Dante is seeing another woman. Fe asks why the priest never did anything. The priest informs her that they cannot help unless someone asks for it.

It is the ancient story about domestic violence that the marital space becomes a sacred space where only the couple can settle their differences. That space is so sacred that in there, man and woman can kill each other and the world cannot intervene.

Cooped up in that space created by man and marriage and morality, Fe has one other place to go: the realm of the Enchanted.

This, I believe, is the strongest point of Alvin Yapan’s discourse: that there is the land of the Enchanted and people have a chance to redeem themselves there. Interestingly, this domain of enchantment is recognized by ordinary people. The same kin and friends who refuse to see Fe and other women betrayed and battered by their men point with certainty to the territory of the Unseen. Where the husband cannot prove the infidelity of his wife and when the basket of fruits that materialize each day is beyond any empirical proof, the Cafre is introduced. Enchantment explains Real Life.

Now, here is my problem –– a nice problem –– with the folklore of Yapan: in the land of the Enchanted lives this huge man who is notorious for his persistence. He gifts the women he likes with many, many things, and does not stop until he is able to show them what he has in his kingdom. In the real world, the men are bad enough; in the parallel magical world, the man is judgmental and still possesses many tricks. What is the film trying to say, that a woman can only be happy if she escapes this world?

But this I like: in the other world, the one who judges ultimately is still a man, bigger and more powerful than his representations in bedrooms and home. I also ask what many others ask: why rapture instead of rape? Is this a case of the translation as an explanation for the bliss in the world of enchantment that Fe seeks, is offered and finds?

I sense a terrible miscasting in the film: the three leads –– TJ Trinidad, Nonie Buencamino, and Irma Adlawan –– appear to inhabit different performance spaces. The energy of Trinidad does not seem to match the vigor of Adlawan, which in turn is too much for cinema and its requirement for nuances. Buencamino has developed mannerisms that are distracting. Sometimes, the three actors come together to produce strong impressions. Most of the time, however, their scenes tend to have intermittent effects and not the sinuous sensation that come from a weaving of characters.

Fortunately for the film, the filmmakers (to include the cinematographer, Solita Garcia, and the production designers Gino Nacianceno and Marco Ortiga) finally are able to go back to the wellspring of Filipino narrative, the myths and the folklores and the legends. But more than just fleshing out these oral traditions, they also discover the inversions and the tricks and even the politics of the early storytellers.

“Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” finally reveals what those early storytellers hid from us: that folklores are just ways of seducing once more the listeners into believing in the afterworld, forgetting that even those unseen spaces are imagined by men who believe they own their women.