by Heinrich Domingo
Seldom do we see films that tackle the foul narrative of death. The popular media anesthetizes us with everything that is feel-good and beautiful. For those who value the ugly truth, Jason Paul Laxamana’s film delivers us back to the real world. It is a reminder that the search for truth might come as dirty, gloomy, and hideous.
Through the independent cinema lens of Laxamana, he presented a story about a coffin-maker (magkakabaung) father who cannot financially support his child. To exaggerate the element of poverty, the film goes onto narrating the death of the child due to a drug allergy.
The filmmakers’ presentation of death does not only focus on the demise of the poor child. Through metaphors, the audience is given a glimpse on the concepts of the death of marriage, death of hope and even death as business. With this, the film is laudable in its effort to bring a new offering on the table of hungry Filipino cinephiles.
What tops Magkakabaung more than its compelling story is the superb acting of its main character Allen Dizon. His emotional delivery of lines and empathetic act as a loving desperate father built the dramatic foundation of the whole film. Although supporting characters such as Felixia Crysten Dizon (playing Angeline the daughter) and Gladys Reyes (as Mabel) were not as outstanding as Allen, they were able to sufficiently play their roles.
Set on the backdrop of Kapampangan culture, the movie genuinely portrays the struggle of a rural poor family earning a wage that is only enough for a day. Elements such as the mother’s expat husband, the capitalist cadaver buyer, and the father’s extortionist girlfriend gave contrast to the slow-pacing provincial life.
The film banks on the pain and agony brought by poverty. It highlights the decaying nature of desperation caused by financial insufficiency. Disguised in the sadness felt by audience is a blunt social, class, and political commentary.
In its concept, Magkakabaung is outstanding for discussing the seldom talked about issue of death and dying. It is not usual to see a coffin-maker father who buries her daughter on bare earth because of the inability to pay for the funeral service. With this reason alone, the film plays beyond the expectation of a regular independent film.
Sadly, films cannot stand alone on their concept and storyline. Being a visually-centric medium, they are expected to deliver their message through compelling photography and sound. In the case of this film, its cinematographic appeal does not content the audience. The camera-handling included unnecessary shaky shots that often lead to ambiguity. Also, the camera focus would usually pan to unrelated items which provide a false foreshadowing of events.
This is a movie that can be anything but visually captivating. As the audience views the many faces of death, they are presented with a death of a great storyline due to poor cinematic execution. It is lamentable to see a brilliant idea put into waste. With this, it is important that Laxamana and many filmmakers understand that their narrative must transcend the visual and content prerequisites.
We are hopeful that a day would come where films won’t be judged on their imagery. As all movies complete the cinematographic requirement, they will be merely seen on the quality of their story.