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On a higher, darker plane

IT IS “dark,” literally. A good part of “Honor Thy Father” is set underground, in the warrens of mine tunnels and below the foundations of a sect’s temple.

But its material is even darker, telling the story of a young husband and father’s struggle to protect his family from the class and criminal warfare waged by those seeking to recover their lost wealth.

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Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz) finds himself caught in the web of violence and vengeance when his father-in-law’s Ponzi operations go awry, defrauding hundreds out of their hard-earned cash invested in his get-rich-quick scheme. Unfortunately, it isn’t only their friends, neighbors and church brethren who are victimized. Among those tricked of their money are shadowy influential figures who then employ sinister means to force Edgar and his wife Kaye (Meryll Soriano) to cough up the millions of pesos they owe.

But Edgar has himself a dark background, a past he thought he had left behind when he left his family of small-time miners with a sideline in criminality. Driven to desperation, Edgar returns to his relatives, hatching a plan to source the funds he needs to pay back his oppressors.

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Edgar and his brothers hatch a criminal plan of their own—to break into the headquarters of the evangelical church to which Edgar and Kaye belong and steal the millions of pesos stored there, purportedly for the construction of a new church.

At the head of the church is Bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III), who is smooth-talking and imperious, but turns a cold heart toward the couple who run to him in desperation. One suspects the choice of the church funds is no accident, that the motivation has as much to do with vengeance as it has to do with convenience.

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CERTAINLY, this is no holiday film, not feel-good at all, not even imbued with “positive” values that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) worthies say they want to encourage.

Maybe this is the reason the MMFF authorities initially turned down “Honor Thy Father” (original title: “Con Man”) as an entry in the festival, allowing it in only at the last minute when an entry backed out due to production difficulties.

But ranged against the lineup of comedies, rom-coms, horror and crime/suspense films, “Honor Thy Father” is several planes higher, both in terms of gravity of intent, social relevance, quality of direction (by Erik Matti) and production and outstanding acting. It should have been named Best Picture.

In interviews, Cruz said he agreed to do the movie because he wanted to broaden his acting reach, to do movies beyond the romantic comedies which have earned him fame and fortune. It was certainly a bold move (and not just because he shaved his hair in one scene), and filmgoers owe him a huge debt for lending his name, reputation and box-office appeal (he was also one of the producers) to a movie which examines the depravities of Philippine society, and examines the hypocrisy that underlies the intersects of religion, politics and criminality.

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Indeed, “Honor Thy Father” is a dark film, but it shines a harsh, mordant light on the realities of our society, on its inequities and injustice.

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THE good news is that there was a respectably-sized crowd in the movie house where we caught “Honor Thy Father,” and a cursory review of movie ads show that the film, listed as one of the bottom-dwellers of the festival, is still being carried by a number of theaters. But I can’t help wondering how much of a box-office boost a Best Picture win would have given this film.

Instead, that boost is being enjoyed by “#WalangForever,” the movie that won Best Picture honors in the MMFF awards night, along with Best Actor (for Jericho Rosales) and Best Actress (for Jennylyn Mercado).

Although billed as a rom-com, “#WalangForever” attempts to both deepen and broaden this film genre, mixing humor and a complicated romance, sympathetic characters, and a teary conclusion to craft a movie that is satisfying and memorable.

To be honest, having just come from viewing “Honor Thy Father” the day before, I was prepared to dislike “#WalangForever.” I felt the injustice in invoking a technicality just to eliminate “Honor Thy Father” from the running as Best Picture, and wondered at the motivations of those running the festival, whose original intent had long been subverted by money-grubbing organizers.

But instead, I found myself engrossed in this story of two seemingly star-crossed lovers, whose relationship is reflected in a series of rom-coms penned by Mia (Mercado). But it has been some years since her parting from Ethan (Rosales), and Mia finds her creative juices drying up in the emptiness of life without her great love.

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DIRECTOR Dan Villegas and screenwriter Paul Sta. Ana (working from a story by Villegas and Antoinette Jadaone) pace the cast in a sprightly, animated manner. So-called “hugot” (heart-tugging) lines proliferate, as do loving, lingering shots of the lover-leads. Mercado is charming and exudes a genuine sense of authenticity. But Rosales handles the sudden transition of his character with smoothness, undetected and devoid of the usual histrionic tricks that too many performers employ.

The film has many messages for its audience: that communication is a necessary fuel for the growth of a relationship, that love is beyond judgment and even death, that being true to oneself is the key to finding meaning in life.

But… it is not “Honor Thy Father.” Good and heartwarming as it is, “#WalangForever” is a symptom of the warped judgment of those who would purport to set our social and cultural agenda.

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TAGS: Honor Thy Father, Metro Manila Film Festival, MMFF, Movie, opinion, Walang Forever
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