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

Bwaya: The Artifice of Meta-cinema

  • strict warning: Non-static method Pagination::getInstance() should not be called statically in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 278.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 278.
  • strict warning: Non-static method Pagination::getInstance() should not be called statically in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 355.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 355.
  • strict warning: Non-static method Pagination::getInstance() should not be called statically in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 313.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/pagination/pagination.module on line 313.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 842.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_validate() should be compatible with views_handler::options_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter::options_submit() should be compatible with views_handler::options_submit($form, &$form_state) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter.inc on line 589.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_many_to_one::init() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::init(&$view, $options) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/handlers/views_handler_filter_many_to_one.inc on line 104.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_handler_filter_term_node_tid::value_validate() should be compatible with views_handler_filter::value_validate($form, &$form_state) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/modules/taxonomy/views_handler_filter_term_node_tid.inc on line 303.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_validate() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_validate(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Declaration of views_plugin_row::options_submit() should be compatible with views_plugin::options_submit(&$form, &$form_state) in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/plugins/views_plugin_row.inc on line 135.
  • strict warning: Non-static method view::load() should not be called statically in /home/manunuri/public_html/sites/all/modules/views/views.module on line 842.

By Mike Rapatan
Francis Xavier Pasion’s Bwaya is shot in the deceptively quiet marshlands of Agusan where, according to published news, twelve-year-old Rowena Romano while rowing in her banca with her cousin was suddenly attacked and killed by a crocodile which some suspect to be Lolong, the world’s largest saltwater crocodile as proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records. Pasion expands on this grisly tabloid-sounding report and strives to elevate it to some significance so that in the end we are moved and not merely shocked at Rowena’s unusual disappearance.
Pasion’s strategy to raise the incident’s narrative import is to weave in its retelling of Rowena’s tragic circumstance diverse strands of myth, media exploitation and meta-cinema. Of myth, Pasion unravels every now and then through an off-screen lumad elder the Manobo primordial tale of Dinagye-an and spouse Dehunajun, precursors of the film’s dominant reptilian figure. Pasion uses this Manobo story and other indigenous songs and music as background commentary to the film’s diegetic world, at times hinting at peace offering reasons for the crocodile’s ambush or suggesting towards the end when Divina faces the crocodile that one’s anger is the lurking crocodile within that one must subdue. At other times, the ethnic chants underline the general ambiguity of earthly life. The net effect of Pasion’s intertwining of these ethnic voices representative of the mythic past with the testimonies of key figures such as Rowena’s real parents is that this filters out from the viewer’s mind the bizarre character of Rowena’s disappearance and foregrounds into the audience’s consciousness a specific cultural point of view with regards to fate, nature and destiny.
Neil Daza’s cinematography lyrically captures the lifeways of the Manobo’s floating village but does not disguise nor efface the community’s impoverished surroundings. In scenes such as the early morning mist clearing above the river, the majestic aerial shots of bancas gliding down the glassy water or cutting through the thick vegetation, the rows of thin trees standing like sentinels and the final shot of a girl in a banca rowing across the screen while a rainbow appears in the background, Daza in tandem with Erwin Fajardo’s ethereal music creates a transporting poetic atmosphere. Although Pasion’s film is rooted in the Manobo milieu and worldview, Pasion makes Rowena’s story accessible and sympathetic by turning the film into a poignant portrait of a mother’s loss of and yearning for a beloved daughter. By following Divina, Rowena’s anguished mother as intricately played by Angeli Bayani, and slowly exposing the depths of her harrowing agony, Pasion manages to transform the account’s regional origin into a universal narrative of parental grief and pain. Bayani’s uncanny ability to be invisible and unrecognizable in Divina’s character enables audiences outside the Manobo culture to identify and connect with Divina in her unfortunate predicament. Through Bayani and Karl Medina who shows the internalized suffering of Rex, Rowena’s stoic father, and together with the raw ensemble acting of the local talent led by Jolina Espana as Rowena, Pasion shuns melodramatic stereotypes and presents instead living, authentic and engaging characters.
For much of the film, Pasion succeeds in making us care for Divina but every now and then, he interrupts our involvement with her by taking on a reflexive stance similar to what he did in his past film, Jay. Pasion inserts film clips of the actual exhumation of what is purportedly Rowena’s body. He also cuts in interviews with Rowena’s real parents and somehow, they come across as less endearing than Bayani and Medina’s portrayals. Towards the end of the film, as we see Divina sob and cling to her children, a clapboard enters making us think that perhaps the whole film was all along staged and a mere manipulation of our emotions. Although these meta-cinematic scenes can add more texture to the film, the reflexive issues that these scenes propose are not as fully and provocatively investigated in the same way that Pasion did in Jay. The film’s juxtaposition of documentary-like scenes with their fictional counterparts and casual references to the culpability of media to sensationalize offbeat incidents like a crocodile assault and insinuations of tabloid journalism as the other bwaya sounds novel but the set-up of these big ideas appears artificial and their relationships are tenuous and treated in a superficial manner. These scenes while emblematic of contemporary independent film aesthetics do not grow as organic elements in this film’s diegetic world. Being familiar with meta or reflexive cinema, it would have been interesting to see how Pasion would handle this at a more advanced level compared to Jay. But, in spite of these reflexive attempts, Pasion’s depiction of Rowena’s untimely loss has for the most part been absorbing and haunting.