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

Transit: When Geography and Identity Collide

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By Gigi Javier Alfonso

There are constantlymoving images of people, the sounds of airports and planes, the vast skies, sands and seas where people find their way in the rough journey for better lives…they are in transit. The story starts in the airport with father and son moving about. Still not knowing whether they are on their way home to the Philippines or they are off to fly to another country. The narrative continuously flows and slowly brings us back to the uncertain day-to-day life of the Filipino worker struggling to understand, integrate and make meanings of belonging to a not-too-familiar culture. They also find themselves in small lived-in quarters begging for rest where they can breathe peace even if only for a while. It is a place for hiding, for bonding and reenergizing before they step outside to claim a space once again in an unwelcoming land.

This montage of sounds and images brings us to looking at the transnational Filipinos who find themselves in a complex geography-identity collision course when immigration laws change as governments of nations react to globalization. Governments vary in openness and in addressing the issue of the free flow of ideas, products and people ushered in by the changing times. And this is what globalization brings and its challenges that are to be addressed.

Transit is a film by extremely talented director-writer-editor Hannah Espia. She co-wrote this film with Giancarlo Abrahan and edited it with Benjamin Tolentino. The pace, the rhythm and the circuitous direction, it is clear that she possesses masterful control of all the cinematic elements moving the narrative of her film. She foregrounds a Filipino family in Israel where there has been a change in immigration laws. Here little children of migrants who were born in Israel can be deported. Captured with a documentary-like reality is the beat and the sense of the land and its people.

She brilliantly puts together outstanding ensemble performances. It is about Moises, as exceptionally performed by Ping Medina, a caretaker of an aging jolly Israeli who appreciates his sincere services, His scene in the police station almost exploding with so much anxiety, anger and fear as he pleads not to deport his son was so touching as he tries to hold back all these complex emotions.

He is a single father to his four-year-old son Joshua played by Marc Justin Alvarez. This young actor has a knack for the authentic. His acting is brought to a level of non-acting that is so real—that of a little boy born in the land not his father’s own and in transit to his homeland that he has no idea of. Moises has to constantly hide Joshua and forbids him to leave their cramp apartment. This is also the story of Janet sharing the apartment and feeling family. Irma Adlawan is at her best as Janet, who is frequently at odds with her daughter Yael as she constantly insists upon her to feel Filipino though Yael does not understand Tagalog, her mother’s native tongue… she just speaks fluent Israeli. She is in love with an Israeli young man and admire his culture as well. Yael is sensitively performed by Jasmine Curtis. Jasmine is so convincing as a hopeful resident of Israel struggling to understand the desperation of her mother just because she does not feel Filipino like her. She sees the wonder and the bright future beyond the difficult lives as she expects to be qualified as resident. They are all staying under one roof just like a family. Then comes Mercedes Cabral as Tina, inching her way into this extended family bonded by necessity. She has nowhere to go nor money to spend. Moises poses resistance to her occupying space in their home and their hearts. This was no strange occurrence as in the scene where the mother of Joshua played by Toni Gonzaga is asked by Moises to adopt their son so that Joshua will not suffer deportation…she likewise denied her child space in her life.

The editor-director combination has always been the effective mix for a film to attain the montage-mis-en-scene fusion where editing has a strong part in the directing itself. Director Hannah flexes her montage-driven storytelling as she moves from several points of view of believable characters facing their individual transit towards their geography-identity collision.

This film seems not to judge but rather present the different points of view of Filipinos who would rather just leave and cannot find any reason to stay in our country, their homeland, and sees that returning home is the saddest moment of their lives. Espia’s Transit provokes and evokes that geography and identity collision that explodes inside with such grim sadness. It surfaces the need for reflexive and identity searching for us Filipinos wherever we are. And hopefully we have some answers to the many questions it poses.