In the tradition of Ditsi Carolino, (director) Jewel Maranan points her camera on the marginalized and lets the images speak for themselves: a very refreshing departure from the usual documentaries churned out by Philippine TV on an almost weekly basis, where the lives of the country’s poor are essentialized to the bare bones because of TV time constraints, and where the screen time of TV personalities/reporters, looking all “aw, shucks, I pity you” while asking the poor to state the obvious, is given premium.
Through this film, Maranan, in effect, is telling Pinoy TV documentarians that if they only shut up and look closer, they’ll notice more nuances without spoonfeeding their audience with what they can deduce for themselves. With one shot of the father’s old ID, the audience will get that he has previously worked in a mall, but was laid off, which is not unusual because of the contractualization of Philippine labor, where mall workers only get 6-month contracts at a time so these big companies can scrimp on employee benefits. Just by listening to family conversations and routines, they’ll learn so much more about the family history and dynamics: that the family came from Leyte, one of the country’s poorest provinces, hoping for a better life in Manila; that the kuya, despite not being able to finish elementary school, is a film enthusiast, pasting movie posters (pirated DVD covers, really) on the wall and correcting his younger brother about a certain movie plot; that Virgie, the heavily pregnant mother, is seemingly resigned to her family’s fate, going about her routine (fishing in the polluted Manila Bay, chopping firewood, cooking, putting her kids to sleep) in a zombie-like state that you could only imagine all the hardships she had to endure in her life.
Even if the whole film is centered on one household (the farthest the camera has gone out of the house is the nearby ‘backyard’ – big boulders placed beside each other that serve as breakwater), the bigger socio-political context is not altogether eschewed. You learn about globalization, industrialization, countryside-to-city migration, gender roles, public health and medicine, among other issues, not by being told but by thinking for yourself.
By staying mute, Maranan said so much.