Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Caught Anac ti Pating

[Poster from Guavas, Cows and Crocodiles]

I wouldn't have known of the endearing little film Anac ti Pating (2012), a coming-of-age tale set in Baguio City, were it not for a friend. She wanted to watch it in support of local cinema but couldn't make it to the February 1 & 2 screenings at the Film Development Council of the Philippines Cinematheque, so in late January she asked me to go see it in her stead.

I was apprehensive at first since majority of the film's dialogue was in Ilocano and I didn't know a lick of the dialect, but when I learned it had English subtitles I looked forward to watching it. The show times didn't actually fit my schedule but fortunately there was a last-minute change that allowed me to go. That was how I was able to see just my third movie for the year.

The screenplay for Anac ti Pating was chosen as finalist in FDCP's 1st National Film Competition, for which writer/director Martin Masadao was awarded seed money to produce it. The finished film then won the Grand Festival Prize at the National Film Festival Ikalawang Yugto staged last year in Davao City by the FDCP. Deuel Raynon Ladia, who plays the main character Sixto Mangaoang, was picked Best Actor at the same festival.

Below is a synopsis from Masadao's blog:
"Anac Ti Pating" happens in one school year from June to March. Sixto Mangaoang is a Math wizard in Grade 5, he however also has the penchant for drawing and writing. For his English Class project, Sixto decides on writing a short story for children about a shark living in the forest in the Cordilleras. Sixto 'comes-of-age' in this school year, he develops a friendship with his neighbor, the retired Dr. Rayos, who encourages Sixto to strive hard to pursue his dreams. Sixto also befriends his Korean neighbor, a boy about the same age as he, despite their awkward first meeting. Sixto experiences first love. Sixto stands up to the school bully. Sixto discovers the truth about his birth.
Here is a preview, courtesy of the FDCP:

AnacTiPating - Wi-Fi from Sineng Pambansa TV on Vimeo.

The film's title literally translates to "anak ng pating" or "a shark's child." I don't know if that phrase has a specific figurative meaning in Ilocano, but my guess is that in this instance it refers to the main character who, despite his youth, is a battler undaunted by his present lot in life. And just like the shark in his children's story that is forced to leave the seas and evolve to live in the forests of the Cordilleras, Sixto finds himself left with no other choice but to leave his family and hometown in order to pursue his dream of getting published.

Anac is beautifully shot overall, although in some parts the cinematography beats you over the head with "The Message" (e.g., the inordinate focus on Sixto's father's spinner-buckle belt that the boy was amused by as a toddler—the same belt that, in a twist of irony, he was beaten with years later; the awkward camera work in the bonfire scene leading to the revelation of Sixto's mother's big secret).

The film has its lighthearted moments. Some work and fit the flow of story (e.g., the "fun with digicam" Christmas scene with Sixto's father Fredo Mangaoang, played by Nick Prill Calinao; Sixto's encounter with a boy who boasts that he will study at "Disneyland Grade School" then at "Harvard High School" in the United States, oblivious of the former's sarcastic remarks; the revelation of the origin and actual spelling of Sixto's name), but some don't (e.g., the "Hey, Joe!" gag for the quick laugh involving Kawayan de Guia in a cameo appearance; the school play scene where an incensed director storms out of a rehearsal).

Despite its languorous pace and the various plot threads mentioned in the synopsis, by my count Anac surprisingly clocked in at only 91 minutes. Still, the screenplay could have stood a little pruning, particularly those subplots involving minor characters that didn't substantially advance the main narrative (e.g., the car scene with the school bully and his family; the car scene with the owners of the property where Sixto and his parents stay as caretakers; the proposal scene between two of Sixto's teachers) or weren't satisfactorily resolved anyway.

I could see why Ladia could win a Best Actor trophy in what is perhaps his first movie role: he exudes beyond-his-years pluckiness and self-possession that convinces you Sixto is a big fish in a small pond and that with his intelligence, resourcefulness, and literary and artistic talents, he will survive in big, bad Metro Manila.

For my money, however, it's Luchie Maranan, playing a long-suffering wife and Sixto's (adoptive?) mother Mayette Mangaoang, who turns in the best performance among the film's all-locals cast.

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