By Heinrich Domingo
Engkwentro delivers reality on the screen so raw and so pungent that viewers are awakened to go back to their world. Here, the cinema is no longer an anesthesia. It becomes a reflection of what the Philippines is as Dutertopia.
Brothers Richard and Raymond are teenagers battling urban poverty. In the slums of Davao City where they reside, hundreds of families suffer the same condition. While the city death squad is launching war against crime and drugs, the brothers are caught in a clash (engkwentro) of gangs where Raymond is tasked to kill his older brother. The story is a labyrinth of some sort where the two brothers, together with fellow poor and marginalized neighbors, are targeted by the authority. There is no choice left but to accept the seemingly kinder option of death.
Released in 2009, the film was a directorial debut of Pepe Diokno (Above the Clouds) earning him local and international accolades. The story was simple. It is about the country’s urban poverty, the degradation of human essence, and the government’s failure to address the situation. It is the kind of story told by many indie films in the early 2000s. To use the much-eluded media term, Engkwentro is poverty porn. It banks on the third world conditions of cities in the Philippines and the Filipino’s inability to improve their lives. The likes of Brillante Mendoza, Jun Lana, and many others, have films with the same theme.
Yet, Engkwentro is much more relevant today with the hundreds of extra-judicial killings recorded in the country. It is an irony that Diokno’s story was set in Davao City using many allegories to then city Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and his death squad. Seven years after, the local politician went national and is doing his brand of justice in a larger scale.
The story of Richard and Raymond is no longer an isolated case in a far-flung city. Their story is becoming more real than ever. Today, it is shared by 544 (from May to July) dead people, including women and children, in the name of war on drugs. Although the film is far more complex than issues of drugs and extra-judicial killings, it is difficult to look at the film’s narrative as nothing but a critique to the kind of social conditions we currently have. Engkwentro aptly asks its audience to “Imagine a city where the price of peace and order is death.”
Behind the unappealing cinematography, the film’s plot and ensemble of unfamiliar yet brilliant cast are enough to send a crystal clear message. Diokno’s ‘inexperience’ in the film industry made his story-telling curios and interesting. Viewers who would see Engkwentro would be confronted with how they view poverty, social justice, and due process. It will ask them to revisit the values and humanity.
Film has this kind of power. It has subtlety, irony, and parody at its disposal. With these weapons at hand, filmmakers are more important than ever to take a stand, call out what is improper, and criticize what is bad. In a clash (engkwentro) of socio-political forces, the film industry must show its might.
Engkwentro can be watched on iflix. Avail of their monthly or annual plans now and tell them we sent you!