I haven’t reviewed a local film in my blog since the beginning because this was supposed to be all about the Oscars, as you can see in my blog’s name. But whatever. I felt the need to write about this film after seeing it.
Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Pamilya Ordinaryo centers its narrative on Aries and Jane, a young couple with their one-month old baby named Arjan. Residing in the impoverished streets of Manila (specifically in Quiapo), the two make ends meet mainly by their thievery schemes and through donated goods distributed by government officials. Things turn for the worse when their baby was stolen by a mischievous person named Ertha who presented himself as a helping hand to the couple. This misfortune takes the couple to the damning extremes just to retrieve their baby.
Roy’s preceding film, the impeccably crafted drama-thriller Quick Change, is situated in the world of beauty pageantry and makeshift cosmetic procedures. Its strongly atmospheric depiction of a specific community whose fascination in striving for beauty borders on medical uncertainty makes for a film with a distinctive environment.
The same thing can be said of Pamilya Ordinaryo whose setting is grounded on a set of specificities: the constant swearing of the characters in normal conversations, the everyday decisions the characters make, and even the geography of the places where the actors move around. For the first half of the film, we are absorbed to a complete milieu where nothing rings false; it is this sense of authenticity that makes the first half so pressing and therefore very effective.
I admit this is a plus to me since I walk those exact sidewalks and streets where majority of the film is set; this later on caused later on because the geography of the film became problematic to me. For example, while the majority of the story is set in Quiapo, Manila, the couple somehow ended up going to a police headquarters along EDSA. Another one is the failed robbery of Aries was set in Kamuning, Quezon City. After running from the mob of spectators, he ends up back in their sidewalk home in Quiapo, more specifically in front of the dilapidated Metropolitan Theater in Lawton.
The amusing moments caused by the sharp-tongued conversations of the characters serves both as a characterizing part of the milieu and as a breather from the building tension in the narrative. However, while the humor was utilized quite well in the first half, it became unnecessary and even distracting during the second.
Perhaps it is because of my inclinations that it could go to even darker corners had it kept a straight face especially in the second half of the film (this proved to be very effective in Quick Change). Alas, in keeping of the film’s consistency, the film does not shy away from still showing those moments.
The film even employs two cinematic techniques that makes me remember of European influences: as noted by a friend, the long takes in the film resemble the films of the Dardennes Brothers, noted for their scenes imbued with a sense of spontaneity and urgency. The long walks and conversations between Aries and Jane elicit memories of the Dardennes Brothers’ Marion Cotillard-starrer Two Days, One Night (2014); even up to the minimized use of music and the silence of the end credits cannot help me but remember that film. Meanwhile, the muted CCTV shots makes me recall Michael Haneke, a filmmaker who uses long takes shot from a distance in moments of a crucial (often ill-fated) action; a moment I think of is the final scene of Haneke’s Caché (2005).
These two techniques are skillfully weaved together creating the most tension. As the noise of the Manila streets abruptly shifts to the lack of sound in the CCTV shots, there is always a breathtaking moment of uncertainty; this shift in shots becomes a recurring reminder of something going wrong whenever this happens.
The heart of the film lies on the performances of the leads, played by Ronwaldo Martin and Hasmine Killip. Both bring raw and powerful portrayals of a young couple forced into responsibility of being parents and such a young age and how the adjust to that as well as to the harsh realities of city life by becoming streetsmart thieves. The film especially leaned towards the character of Jane in the first half, played by Killip. In the moments of rage and spite, she is effective. In times of doubt and helplessness, she is harrowing. The second half of the film, though not as strong as the first, contains Martin’s best scenes. Every indecision seen, lust felt, and anger displayed culminates in a performance that is both intelligent and unpredictable.
The film is abundant of powerful scenes. Socio-economic discrimination is hinted on the change of tone when a rich woman asks the grocery security guard to assist the couple after he ignored them. The grossness of power abuse when Jane was sexually harassed by police officers in the station is uncomfortable to watch. The wary sexual intercourse the couple enjoys as they do it in the sidewalks, while occasionally humorous, certainly rings true. Media sensationalism is even touched when a broadcast journalist interviews them and then makes a fictionalized reenactment of their lives.
There is so much going on in this film that has a makings of a great film. Imperfections are present in this film; I certainly find myself disagreeing with the last thirty minutes of the film. For some reason, while I do take notice of the film’s weaknesses, “problematic” and “disappointing” are the words I would never use with this film.
There is consistency in the rawness of the film. It locates the story in poverty, and yet it does not feel tired and well-trodden (at least, stylistically-wise). I keep noticing these “glitches” when I was watching it, but as the credits roll, I am still haunted by the disturbing images of the series of events experienced by Aries and Jane. I am still thinking of the whereabouts of Arjan. I am still frustrated by what Ertha did to the family. I am still infuriated with what media has done to them.
Nevermind that it’s not flawless. This is a powerful film.