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

Endo: Depicting a social problem without pontificating

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By Butch Francisco

WITH all our concerns in this world, do we even bother to pause and think about the circumstances in life of those people who wait on us in restaurants, the sales clerks who get the correct size and shade of shoes that we buy in department stores and those young food attendants who take our orders in burger joints? Yes, those people we snap at when they bungle up on the job.

Do we even bother with the fact that these people don’t even have security of tenure and that in five months they’d be out of job and out in the streets looking for another way to earn a living?

The lives and tentative future of these young people is what we get to see in UFO Pictures’ “Endo” (End of Contract), which won the Special Jury Prize in the 2007 Cinemalaya.

Directed by Jade Castro, who co-writes the script with Michiko Yamamoto and Raymond Lee, “Endo” shows two young people Jason Abalos and Ina Feleo flit from job to job to job and find true romance. From flipping burgers to selling shoes to scrubbing bathroom floors—they do all that, but only for five months. No, its not because they are so lousy on the job (although Jason was fired once for screaming at an overbearing customer), but because they are contractual workers and are never regularized.

For the past three decades or so, that’s how the greedy capitalists work, with one mall owner being the most notorious; he hires workers only on a contractual basis so that they don’t become regulars and eventually he doesn’t get to pay benefits.

Of course, there will always be people who would agree to this kind of arrangement and sign this pact with the devil because this is better than not having any job at all. But after five months, they’d be out of work and join the rest of the unemployed. This is such a raw deal, but that is life in this country.

In “Endo”, while Jason and Ina slave it out on the job and off, they manage to keep their relationship, maintain friendships with people they meet at work, and attend to the needs of their families. It’s just a regular routine for them—like this is how life is supposed to be…until they reach their end of contract.

The situation is so effectively depicted that viewers fear for their future. Is this the kind of life they—and the countless other young people at the mercy of employers—willl have forever? It’s the classic hand-to-mouth existence.

Since “Endo” is the type of film that doesn’t preach, we don’t hear any of the characters complain or whine about their sorry situation—again, like it is the normal course of things. It shouldn’t be that way and it is cause for concern that everyone has accepted this kind of unfair labor practice due to poverty and lack of better work opportunities.

In the movie, Jason and Ina have fully accepted their fate and embraced the fact that the only way for them to have a brighter future is to slave it out abroad. Slavery still, but with better pay. And so this is the kind of life most people in this country have (and they are supposed to be forever grateful that they somehow are still capable of finding jobs to tide them over). This social problem is so realistically depicted in “Endo,” but without pontificating (actually, I’m the one doing it in this review—having been so carried away by the film’s message that is conveyed most subtly).

Graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, the movie does not resort to hysterics—no big scenes to jolt the viewers and encourage them to instigate mass action against capitalism. But important things you need to know about the current social situation in this country are in the film.

The director has creditably slowed down the beat and pacing of the film, but without necessarily boring the viewers. The viewers stay glued to their seats anticipating each and every twist and turn of the story.

Surely, it helps that the two young leads—Jason and Ina—are more than competent actors whose performances help “Endo” succeed as a film. Ina, who won the Best Actress award in Cinemalaya for this movie, is luminous and has powerful screen presence. It’s like she was born to romance with the cameras. If there is one weakness to her performance it is the fact that her very Class A-B background and obviously sophisticated upbringing still manifest in how she talks and conducts herself in the film. It is an almost excellent performance and it is obvious she got the best traits of talented parents Johnny Delgado and Laurice Guillen.

Both Jason and Ina get strong support from secondary players Ricky Davao (as Jason’s father), Alchris Galura (as Ina’s brother) and Mailes Kanapi (who was Tonya in a recent stage version of “Insiang,” as Ina’s sympathetic co-worker. Their performances, plus the solid material they work on, make them look so real you cant’ help but relate to them and understand their station in life.

However, while we empathize with the plight of these contractual workers, we should also realize that we as paying customers—in fastfood outlets, department stores and groceries, etc.—are in the end the biggest victims of this unfair contractual practice enforced by unscrupulous businessmen.

Just look at how it works: A contractual worker joins a company, is hastily trained to do the job and by the time this person has mastered the craft and the entire operational system, he or she has to go. End of contract.

And the cycle continues: The poor customer again has to deal with a clueless and bumbling newcomer who has yet to learn the ABCs of the job and will never be given the chance to be good at it since five months is such a relatively short time to prove your worth if you truly want to be serious with your work. Now, you know why service in this country is so bad. Think about it and weep.