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

Hunghong sa Yuta: The Ghosts of War

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

We can only see the vestiges of war and the clouds of the coming wars. We see the victims—children and women left behind after bullets and fire ravage their homes, towns and men. We can only try to thickly describe the lives of those who are left behind to be able to make meanings of death, fear and pain. The ghosts are those who have been swallowed by the rage of war who will forever be around merged with the everyday lives of those who remember their loss.

First time film director and writer Arnel Mardoquio worked with actors known in the theater scene of both Davao and Jolo. The director of Hunghong sa Yuta is however a veteran of community theater, a director who has leaped into a new medium. He worked hard and has succeeded brilliantly in his journey in using the medium of film to expand his audience not only nationally but transnationally. The Mindanao story can only be well articulated by a Mindanaoan as proven by Hunghong sa Yuta.

The narrative starts with the introduction of a very young Makdung, an eleven year old deaf mute Moro boy warrior, who tells his story. He is from Hinyok a town in Mindanao often visited by war. The children of Hinyok, a remote town, like Makdung have been living in silence and speak through their hand signals.

The deafening sounds of the wars they have survived have battered their spirits and sense of hearing The loud sounds of machine guns and grenades have kept the people of the small town almost resigned to a lifetime of fear and helplessness as the men have gone and have become rebels.

Then the hearts of the people of the town were lifted…the women and children and specially Makdung suddenly felt there is hope and there is a future for all of them with the coming of the teacher Vigo. Vigo wanted to teach all how to read and how to count. However, there was doubt on the intentions of Vigo. Not everyone joined the literacy and numeracy exercises. But eventually the whole community appreciated the efforts of the teacher and everyone agreeing that learning is what will bring them all out of their misery and uncertainty. Here we see the coming together of Muslims and Christians in this little town. Here it is specially noticeable that the people of Mindanao is searching for peace…true and lasting peace.

The film introduces the ensemble carefully crafting each of the characters that are used to propel the narrative.

Nelson Dino performed very well almost naturally but with some convincing tension needed for the role of Vigo the teacher, Joan Mae Soco was certainly convincing in her role as Faima. Jaymar Generana created a three dimensional Mukdong determined to learn. He showed undying commitment to help make his life in the community better, Marvin Mindog is Mustapa, Ronolfo “Popong” Landero was highly effective as Taok, Mario Leofer Lim was outstanding as Wahab, Christine Lim as Amrayda was a developing character having this important change of heart that really pushed the narrative forward, Lucia Cijas as the woman chieftain Buyag Iggan was well performed showing very well that the character represented the dignity of the Lumad as she fights those who betray her and her people. Other actors are Sarah Ingles, Dan Lester Albaracin, Beverly Joy Solina, and Joshua Capre,

Though there is so much of theater in this movie, amazingly, it did not conflict with its being a film. There is so much fluidity in the blocking of the characters and the film had the feeling of getting the rhythm, pace and tension of such an environment …of such a reality. The creative team must be mentioned. Outstanding work from cinematographer Egay Navarro, Film editor Arthur Ian Garcia and soundtrack composer Popong Landero must be noted. And cudos to Project Director Brother Noelvic Deloria for a job well done.

In the ending… where all the cast stand beside the river with the trees on the background, we feel the loss of those who have gone, succumbing to violence. It felt like a tableau. Magic realism, an artistic genre, permits showing in the film - people who have died earlier in the film coming alive in the end part of the narrative. This actually reminds us that we are watching a film that tries to capture the reality of war, death and violence. But such also reminds us that this is a film we are watching… and even if a filmmaker tries to capture and try to remake what is existing, it will still fall short of what is truly happening in our wars…the ghosts of war remind us how precious lives are lost. And we wonder why in real life, we allow this to be.