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

Colorum: A moving fable

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By Bienvenido Lumbera

JOBIN Ballesteros is a new name in the indie scene, but judging from the art and skill he displays in his first film he seems bound to be a director to watch. In “Colorum,” he has fashioned a moving moral fable set in a colorum taxicab on a long journey of escape away from the site of an accident that had killed an American NGO worker. The fable is framed by two men––a good-hearted policeman (Alfred Vargas as Simon), young and benignly good-looking, who doubles illicitly as a cabdriver to earn extra cash in anticipation of setting up a business and marrying his fiancee; and an old man (Lou Veloso as Pedro), an ex-convict, gnarled by 30 years in prison, seeking to connect with an only son whom he had not seen nor heard from in all the years he was in jail.

The car Simon is driving is owned by a police colonel who is concerned that his name does not figure in a court case. The journey to Ormoc, Leyte, is ordered by the colonel who is Simon’s ninong (godfather), originally to get Simon out of trouble. When the U.S.Embassy comes into the picture on the assumption that the death of the American was the handiwork of terrorists, the colonel’s plan begins to include getting rid of the sole witness to the accident. In Ormoc, he has goons to do the work.

Simon is under constant pressure from the colonel by cellphone so his treatment of Pedro alternates between compassion and hostility, between seeing the old man as a hapless victim he has dragged into his attempt to escape from responsibility for the accident, and regarding him as a witness to his crime and thus a potential threat to his security. As for Pedro, who has been informed his son was in Tolosa, Leyte, he half-submits himself to his captivity because the trip to Ormoc would take him closer to finding his son. And Simon’s caring gentleness toward him during the trip, even after he had tried to escape two times, has made him appreciate the policeman’s kindness.

The growing bond between the two men almost snaps towards the end of the long journey. Troubled by the prospect of delivering the blameless Pedro to his ninong’s goons, Simon is shocked to find out that the old man has allowed himself to be taken to Ormoc because the trip would bring him near his son. In unreasoning rage he confronts Pedro and finds out that the old man is an ex-convict who wanted to see the son he had not seen since his incarceration. When they reach Ormoc, Simon is unable to muster the resolve to deliver Pedro to his death and decides to drive back to Manila and accept the consequence of the accident with the colorum car he has been driving.

In Simon’s apartment, Pedro is able to use Simon’s cellphone to contact his son. The conversation is a dramatic highlight of “Colorum” where we find out that the son has completely repudiated his father in view of the crime for which he was imprisoned. At the end of the conversation, Pedro glimpses Simon slumped, head in his hands in utter dejection. The following morning, Simon drives Pedro to the police station where the old man is supposed to testify on the accident. When Simon parks the colorum car in front of the police precinct, Pedro grabs Simon’s gun, shoots him in the leg, and with gun in hand goes toward the policemen who were alarmed by the gunshot. Pedro shouts out that he was the man who killed the American and is shot down as Simon was shouting to his fellow officers not to shoot.

Ballesteros’ narrative is enriched by three vignettes involving three characters who came in contact with Simon and Pedro. The first is about a middle-aged neurotic man who imagines himself a writer but is contemplating suicide for being unable to produce a literary piece. Pedro reproves him for wanting to write but missing to live. The second is about a girl barely out of her teens who hails the colorum car to go to an abortionist in the next town. Pedro regales her with finger tricks with a rubber band and the routines of parenting. The third is about a self-appointed preacher guilt-stricken over his false pretenses by which he made money from the congregation who had been captivated by his eloquence.

As a coda to the fable about Simon and Pedro, we are shown the writer accepting Pedro’s advice about living a life, the pregnant girl walking away from the abortionist’s clinic, and the preacher on his way to confessing his guilt to his congregation.

The subject matter of Colorum and the honesty with which the script has explored the moral ambiguities surrounding the problem of guilt of a good policeman who finds himself liable for an unintended crime, makes Ballesteros’ film stand out among recent indie productions. It is the good fortune of Alfred Vargas and Lou Veloso to have been cast as the policeman and the ex-convict. As Simon, Vargas has found a role that allows him to demonstrate thespic skill that his status as a romantic icon whose good looks and athletic body have tended to overshadow. Under Ballesteros’ direction, he emerges as a memorable character whose disposition and demeanor convince us that here is a good man whom we would want to save from the misfortune that threatens his career and love life.

As Pedro, Lou Veloso, with his long experience as a stage actor, charges the screen with his presence as a father whose past has cost him the affection and respect of the one person who can make freedom after a long jail term worth living for. His sacrifice to allow Simon to enjoy his career and his love gives “Colorum” a tragic turn that in the classic tradition leaves an uplifting impact on the viewer.