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By Lei Landicho

Pan de Salawal uses magical realism to point out the country’s problem on our poor healthcare system. It offers a clean plot with seamless cinematic qualities to both entertain and educate the viewers. From its cast to its screenplay, the film is surely one for the books.

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The film is about a community where almost all its residents suffer from a medical condition. Their illnesses and disabilities are accompanied by unmet expectations and unfulfilled dreams until a young girl named Aguy (ouch in Bisaya) miraculously treats them by inflicting them pain. Aguy made an unlikely friendship with Sal, a pandesal baker, who seemed to be the only person that Aguy cannot heal. Being inseparable from Sal, Aguy realized that the most painful thing she could do for Sal that could heal him is also the most painful for her.

Pan de Salawal follows the typical family fantasy film format. Its plot closely resembles the late 90s film ”Hiling” where a young girl possesses a power to improve the lives of an impoverished community. Its story’s moral can also pass off as an episode of the Wansapanataym anthology. With its classic family-friendly and value-laden premise, the film improves on the lesson that we need pain to experience the joys in life. Pain and suffering are only transitory; while, hope should be a permanent fixture in every person.

More than a story of hope, it is also a commentary on how the country’s failing healthcare system affects the daily living of people in poor communities. In Sal’s case, he is unable to afford a regular treatment for his condition. Pain in his lower back can become too excruciating that has led him to lose hope and attempt to end his life. Although Pan de Salawal ascribes to magical realism in how it tells the story, it uses our harsh social reality as its backbone. Many who do not have access to affordable and quality healthcare services go to faith healers or quack doctors. The community’s faith in Aguy’s magic is telling of their own belief systems and the societal context that they reside.

With a great acting ensemble, the film believably delivers comedy and drama to the audience. Bodjie Pascua (Sal) and Miel Espinoza (Aguy) led the ensemble with pure emotion. Casting Pascua as an ailing old man is seemingly done to tug on the heartstrings of people who have known him in Batibot. While Espinoza’s prowess in speaking multiple languages makes her even more admirable. Aside from Pascua and Espinoza, the acting of the entire cast work well in delivering the plot.

First-time Director Che Espiritu pulled off this family fantasy film that perfectly fits its genre. Her crew made an easily loved and relatable community come to life. She made the audience empathize with the characters. Her story-telling both entertains the audience and informs them of the prevalent social realities in our country. All these make Espiritu a filmmaker to watch out for.