The selfie is now the modern way of people capturing themselves in usually the most casual moment. The photo on the right, was grabbed from the blogsite ODDTHINGS.COM under its FUNNY PICTURES series. To netizens, the sight of a Muslim woman covered in burka from head to foot doing selfie is funny, odd and freakish.
But the truth is, this photo is nothing but just another young woman wanting to look good in front of a camera – even if her laws and traditions tell her that her face is covered.
This clash between long-held tradition and modernization is the same dilemma faced by Pina-ilog (Nora Aunor) and her granddaughter Dowokan (Barbie Forteza) in Roderick Cabrido’s beautifully photographed and delicately written TUOS (2016). They live in a small hut deep in the jungles of Panay Island and they are no ordinary family. Pina-ilog is the village princess. She is showered with reverence and apart from public ceremonies where she narrates the village history with chants and dances, she is primarily kept inside her small hut and is obliged to be hidden. With age catching up on Pina-ilog, it is now up to her granddaughter Dowokan to learn the chants, music and oral history to continue the tradition as the new Binukot princess.
Pina-ilog’s determination to pass the sacred role to her granddaughter is matched only by the reluctance of Dowokan to accept it, the latter repeatedly stating her unwillingness. In her chats with childhood friends, they all agree, these rituals are useless and the legends of the Binukots are not real.
But even with the generation gap in discussion, the filmmaker chose to keep the grandmother and granddaughter relationship unbroken and rarely challenged. Pina-ilog loves her granddaughter and even cares for the teenager’s desires for liberty. Dowokan reciprocates that love with duty and respects her grandmother.
With no actual family conflict escalating, Derrick Cabrido takes it slowly – some would say too slowly – and moves frame by frame in fine details to show the youthful playfulness of Dowokan, the dignity and strain in Pina-ilog and the mundane to ritualistic village life. In what would be a surprising element in the movie, a series of animated clips interrupt the live action narrative to tell the back story of an ancient curse; introducing the third most important character in the movie, a villain the family must fight together – a vengeful beast with flaming eyes hidden in the dark.
If there is a weakness to the film, Tuos does not contain enough transitional arc for the characters of both Pina-ilog and Dowokan, depriving the viewer of extreme emotional highs and lows – that roller coaster experience many people come to cinema for.
TUOS is a movie whose effect grows deeper long after you’ve seen it. And this is clearly the intention of both the director and the scriptwriter Denise O’Hara. With an abbreviated final conflict and an ending open to interpretations, the film grows more powerful with every afterthought, and this is what sets the movie apart.
“Who created the beast ?”
“What does the beast stand for?”
“Is tradition an enemy or a friend?”
The TV teleserye trainings of almost all our young actors have created a generation of over-acting stars that feel and look so stressed. But there is that rare occasion when you encounter a young actor that is just above the pack. In my Cinemalaya binging a few weeks ago, I came across that rare natural screen presence and depth in the eyes of young actor Martin Del Rosario in Giancarlo Abraham’s DAGITAB. It didn’t take a lot of time in between to find another one with Barbie Forteza. In a scene where her character Dowokan saw the wounds inflicted by the ghosts to her grandmother, the young actress portrayed shock, quilt and compassion all at the same time with a veteran’s nuance and control.
Nora Aunor as Pina-ilog once more utilizes those eyes that betray the strain of an ageing keeper of the pact. And as if looking so believable – again – as the village matriarch isn’t enough, she delivered a mesmerizing tribal dance number exactly right out of a National Geographic documentary.
TUOS is definitely a high point of this year’s Cinemalaya with its brilliant acting, beautifully photographed rural setting, haunting indigenous music and an unforgettable villain. It could be a masterpiece for the lyrical and cerebral manner that it presented its stand on traditions – particularly those that enshackle women to become mere freak shows.
4 Stars out of 5