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Bakal Boys: Decay by the Sea

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

“BAKAL Boys” is about the young metal divers from Baseco, a community by the sea, who are marching and chanting verses of toughness, smallness and pride in being organized. The children metal divers (the bakal boys) are driven to look for better lives for themselves. They present a picture of boys with dreams. They seem to be full of life and always ready to conquer the waters. They may be seen as ridiculous by others at times but certainly they are not losers in their own eyes. They strut around with dignity.

The film however shows the waste of the skills, time and talent of the young divers efficiently and meticulously searching for, unfortunately, just measly pieces of scrap metal and lost anchors buried underwater in soot and slime. The small pieces of iron bars and sheets are so painstakingly collected. There are in turn exchanged for mere coins and small bills by the junkshop dealers. Here we see young people as the epitome of exploited children of labor because of circumstances in this community where there are no other options but to see the murky bay as the only resource available to them. The waters claim a child’s life almost everyday. We see children wasting their young lungs as they swim in the polluted waters of Manila Bay. Little stunted fish are the only survivors of these oily almost-dead waters of the bay, swimming and witnessing the remnants of past wars and commerce overload.

This is the story of Utoy performed by a Baseco, Tondo native––Meljon Ginto. Utoy loses his friend Bungal (in colloquial Tagalog, “toothless) played by Edgardo Alano Jr. whom he loves as a brother. It is a story about friendship that seems so difficult to find in a community plagued by poverty. But it shows how precious it is. Friendships and love for family are what make the lives of people worth continuing in communities where money and resources are scarce but always sought after. The entire film gives the viewers a feeling of continuous search. The search for Bungal, Utoy’s dear friend, is at the center of the structure. We see Utoy with Bungal’s grandmother, ably played by Gina Pareño, desperately looking for the young boy who does not come back. Utoy is distraught. He cannot stop thinking about the companion and friend he misses. He hears his friend’s voice calling. He cannot stop running and roaming around even in unfriendly territories hoping that he would find him. “Bakal Boys” is likewise a story of a family’s unending search for ways of bettering their lives in a very unkind environment.

What makes this film outstanding is finding and showing the little unpredictable stories in the community that say so much of big things without the melodrama that is the staple of local films dealing with poverty. Director Ralston Jover is very careful in not exoticizing poverty by being closer to the beat of the lives of people who live there by directly putting together his young ensemble cast from the children living in the actual area. Competent supporting performances come from Simon Ibarra, Cherry Malvar, Jess Evardone, and Ketchup Eusebio.

The superior cinematography is by Ruben de la Cruz. The brown under-color echoes the rust and decay in the community, the roving shots following the boys as they move around Baseco captures the picture and texture of this community filled with the clanking corroding metal sea vessels and gives the cinematography visual authenticity. The use of wide spaces that show the sky and the waters creates the feeling of how small the boys are as they continue to struggle through the vastness of poverty.

The screenplay is by Jover co-written with Henry Burgos. The dialogue comes out real and unpretentious––closer to what the young boys are used to as they go through their everyday lives. This has shades of past works of Jover as screenwriter as in “Kubrador,” “Tirador,” and “Foster Child.” It is worth noting that Bing Lao has made his contribution once again as creative consultant.

“Bakal Boys” is a contribution by Apogee Productions to the growing cinema texts focused on the marginalized and voiceless sectors of our society. This then gives space to those who are otherwise left silent in the murky waters of discontent.