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

Tribu: Blood-lusty ballad of an inner city

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By Lito B. Zulueta

Jim Libiran’s “Tribu” has touches of autobiography. A sociologist, poet, and documentary filmmaker and himself Tondo-bred, Libiran seems predestined to make this ultimate anthem to the Tondo of cruel lore and terrible legend, the Tondo of both gentle dreams and passionate faith.

Libiran presents Tondo’s seemingly innate violence in the context of inner-city gangs that raise their industrial pipes and flick their switchblades and go on a tribal-war rampage as easily as they rap or wax poetic about their city, their personal aspirations and frustrations, like the minstrels of more bucolic, less violent times.

Libiran thoroughly knows his geography. His Tondo reeks of the true effluent of human sewage, pulsing with the din and blare of its noise and confusion, to the howl of animals led to their slaughter in Vitas. But amid the racket are also humanity and tenderness, as shown by the warm interaction during family dinners of the gang members.

This is Tondo in all its singeing but lyrical heights, in all its ballast and flare. Housewives pounce on a Meralco inspector, who uses binoculars to read the meters perched on extraordinary heights beyond human tampering, to protest high power rates. Gangs foster fellowship though the brutality of hazing and the camaraderie of drinking sessions. They celebrate life in and out of season, even as they seem bent on a bloodbath for the killing season. There’s no let-up to life and passion.

But alas, their passion is inexorably a bloodlust. Even when they take part in the pagan revelry that characterizes the feast of the Santo Nino, a celebration of the Child Jesus in his infancy and budding promise, the gangs can’t help but be drawn to crucifying one another in the Golgotha of the streets, snuffing out one another’s lives with one whack of machetes and ice-picks, one angry eruption of their improvised shotguns. For all of their death wish, one wonders how they could have reached their young adulthood at all. Or why they have to reach this far only for them to cut each other to pieces.

Libiran seems to imply that even if they’re hell-bent on gory deaths, these gangs have the fire of art and poetry—their rap-verses not only scorching protest songs of the inhumanity of their condition, but also assays at creation that are some sort of a reverse affirmation of life. Much like the old vendor of “pagpag,” leftover fried chicken scavenged from the garbage dump that’s dusted off (“pagpag” literally means to dust off the dirt) for another frying and selling; he recites grand verses to sell his recycled goods—his poetic lines endowing his dumped and dead chicken with new life.

As in Lino Brocka’s social realist dramas, there seems fatalism in “Tribu” with its relentless drive toward blood and death, and the viewer may balk at its utter violence, its downright fatalism. But again and again, the movie rises to poetry, energy and vitality. For its perfect marriage of digital technology and social documentary, and for its scale, ambition, and poetry, “Tribu” is grand filmmaking at its best, but with an independent spirit.

By Butch Francisco

Followers of independent films must have noticed by now how most of these movies use only two kinds of locations. The first is a far, far away locale inaccessible to many: “Ang Daan Patungung Kalimugtong,” “Haw-ang,” “Manoro,” “Huling Balyan ng Buhi,” etc. These settings allow the filmmakers to have complete control over their shoots—without worrying about outside distractions (unless there are NPAs hovering by).

The actors could also emote to their hearts’ content and do not have to be waving every so often to fans in the middle of a take—although most indie performers do not exactly have rabid followers swooning over them.

The cinematographer could photograph all the breathtaking views he wants without worrying about stray vehicles zooming in and out of camera range. The sound man could also have a field day capturing real live sound—from dialogues, the chirping of birds and the humming of bees.

The other common location used in a lot of independent cinema projects are the squatter colonies and I guess—given the budget constraints of these projects—shanties are cheaper to rent than those mansions in gated villages. But I can imagine what a nightmare it must be for the staff assigned to do crowd control in these densely populated slum areas. Some of the indie movies showing squalor are “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros,” “Rekados,” “Kubrador,” “Ataul for Rent” and “Foster Child.”

But just when I thought I’ve seen everything there was to see in those maze-like esquinitas, now comes “Tribu,” written and directed by Jim Libiran, who has earlier made a name for himself as a TV news reporter for ABS-CBN.

Shown in Robinsons Galleria’s indieSine outlet, “Tribu” depicts life in gutter Tondo and how the gangs there operate. Once a genteel place (beloved National Artist Atang de la Rama lived there up to her last breath), some parts of Tondo had for the last 50 years or so become gangland.

Here in “Tribu”, we see the different factions of the notorious gangs, except that they don’t break into song and dance like the gang members in “West Side Story.” Well, some of them do rap and are good at it, but generally they just brawl and kill without compunction.

However, even if you have to watch your back and prepare to get killed senselessly each time you walk the streets in some areas of this district we still see that family values are well-instilled in most homes, where parents continue to remind their children to do good and “to always be careful” (“Mag-iingat kayo”—they always caution their kids).

It is also quite touching to see how an older brother would be so thoughtful and bring home little treats like “chicken de pagpag” to his younger siblings. Chicken de pagpag is actually discarded chicken parts collected in the trash bins of fast food centers, with the dirt dusted off (which is why it’s called pagpag), washed and refried. While there are sanitary issues here, the point being driven in the film is that even the tough guys of Tondo can also be quite sweet, thoughtful and caring to family members.

It is just unfortunate that drug addiction and other criminal elements in the neighborhood negate whatever positive values are taught and learned at home. Of course, there, too, are parents who couldn’t careless—like this mother who brings home her lover and even allows the house to be used for pot sessions. But generally, goodness is pounded in the head of every child—until he falls in bad company outside the home. And he doesn’t have to travel far to go astray. There’s always some bad influence waiting at every street corner.

Except for Malou Crisologo, an assistant director who also does acting parts on TV and in the movies, the cast members of “Tribu” are non-actors and are supposed to be real-life gang members in Tondo. They apparently do such a fantastic acting job out of it that they were hailed best actors for their ensemble performance in the last Cinemalaya.

Jim Libiran handles his actors well and tells his story powerfully. While there are some parts that come out stagy (usually the family dinners), the rest are so shockingly real—any outsider would never dare set foot there ever. You smell the stench of the unwashed population, the rancidness of the chicken de pagpag and the foul odor of decay of humanity in this God-forsaken place.

It’s a very disturbing film. You feel the hopelessness of the people trapped there—without any future.

But you do see a bright future for Jim Libiran as a filmmaker with his more than competent work here in “Tribu”. He and his team deliver one of the finest works in local cinema this year. May your tribu increase!