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Sorrow and song

For an “advocacy” film, which it was originally meant to be, “Taklub” makes its audience work hard for the key messages. A press release from the office of Sen. Loren Legarda, an “advocate” of the film (the actual producers were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in cooperation with the Presidential Communications Operations Office-Philippine Information Agency), says the film features “disaster risk reduction measures such as early warning systems, mangrove reforestation, preemptive evacuation, and designating no-build zones.”

These messages are in the movie, all right, but they are rendered so subtly, so quietly, that one is hard put to identify them. At times, the characters even behave in ways that seem to contradict, if not defy, the messages. One family of orphaned brothers and their sister defy the “no build zone” stricture and move back in to their seaside hut. The lead character and her daughter flee to an evacuation center at the height of a typhoon, but the mother leaves a bit later to chase after a puppy they had left behind in their home.

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“Taklub” (Filipino for “trap”) tells the story of survivors of “Yolanda,” which killed thousands in Tacloban City and environs (including Samar, Bohol and even Palawan), with thousands more missing. Each of the main characters in “Taklub” are bereft, living under a cloud of sorrow, even if director Brillante “Dante” Mendoza chooses not to explore their back stories and instead introduces them in the middle of their current lives, too busy taking care of the living to mourn the dead or plan their futures.

Babeth (Nora Aunor) is the fulcrum on which the film turns, her expressive eyes taking in the many other tragedies and indignities that take place among her family and neighbors, even as she chooses to remain detached, fleeing the emotional impact.

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It is wholly, wholeheartedly Ate Guy’s film. We learn the stories of Babeth’s neighbors mainly through her consciousness, and the weight of her presence lends her witness role heft and gravity. We first learn of the fate of Renato (Lou Veloso), who loses his family in a fire that engulfs their tent, a rending scene that opens the film. Babeth passes around a plastic soda bottle for donations for Renato, but when she visits him in a hospital to hand the money to him, she flees when he is called to an emergency because his only surviving child is near death.

Another neighbor is Larry (Julio Diaz), who ekes out a living as a tricycle driver to help his children and father survive even as he turns desperately to religion for some surcease from his sorrows. But even his devotion cannot keep more sorrows from eroding his faith.

Brothers Erwin (Aaron Rivera) and Marlon (Rene Mallari) and their younger sister struggle to rebuild their lives, with Erwin even finding the gumption to organize his neighbors to make sense of their situation.

Told documentary style, “Taklub” weaves these disparate tales in elliptical fashion, handing out tantalizing hints about the Yolanda-wrought tragedies that shadow the main characters. The slow, steady accretion of sorrow builds up toward the conclusion, with Nora’s sorrowful Mater Dolorosa visage providing an apt closing image, so much more expressive than any amount of propaganda can manufacture.

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“Taklub” was the main feature at the opening of the French Film Festival, which marks its 20th year in the country. The festival goes on until June 9, with movies made in France or in the French language on view at Greenbelt 3 and Bonifacio High Street cinemas.

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Opening the festival was the film “La Famille Belier” (The Belier Family), a 2014 movie by director Eric Lartigau which, like “Taklub,” strives to tell the story of 16-year-old Paula (Louane Emera) and her striving for independence in a quasi-documentary style.

Lartigau opens with scenes of the routines in the Beliers’ dairy and cheese farm, with the birth of a calf that, because of its black hide, is named “Obama.” Both of Paula’s parents—Gigi (Karin Viard) and Rodolphe (Francois Damiens)—are deaf, as is her brother Quentin. Paula is thus the designated family ambassador to the hearing world, who both explains what the world is saying to them, and interprets them to the rest of the world.

But Paula has a hidden gift that is discovered only when she impulsively joins the Glee Club and the teacher stumbles upon her remarkable voice (Emera was the winner of “The Voice” France). It is a sweet irony: Paula, who is her family’s “voice,” cannot be heard by the people she loves the most in the world. And if she leaves for Paris to attend a prestigious music academy, they lose their tenuous ties to the rest of the world.

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There is a delightful scene where Gigi, taking to drink after a disastrous town meeting where her husband announces his candidacy for town mayor, lets out her emotions: “When I gave birth to Paula and they told me she was hearing, I prayed that she would be deaf, because only then could she enter our world. And now she wants to sing?!”

The movie shows us what the world is like to the deaf Beliers. At the Glee Club recital where Paula sings a love song duet with the object of her affections, all sound is cut off, and the Beliers can only watch the reactions on the faces of the rest of the audience to understand the impact of their daughter’s lovely singing.

How Paula finally flies to freedom, but manages to include her family in the embrace of her brave new world, is sure to bring tears to anyone, deaf or hearing, parent or child. It was a superb choice to open a celebration of French cinema.

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TAGS: Advocacy, Brillante Mendoza, DENR, disaster risk reduction, French Film Festival, La Famille Belier, Loren Legarda, Lou Veloso, nora aunor, Philippine Information Agency, Presidential Communications Operations Office, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, tacloban city, Taklub
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