MOVIE REVIEW: Magkakabaung (2014)

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After unknowingly administering the wrong medication to his sick child, should a father be held morally or legally responsible for his action and inaction? Jason Paul Laxamana’s latest full-length feature Magkakabaung (The Coffin Maker) explores a single father’s way of living and the decisions he makes for her daughter even right after the accident.

The response to the aforementioned question lies within the realms of one’s empathy to Randy Alcantara (Allen Dizon) and to his daughter Angeline (Felixia Crysten Dizon, who is the real-life child of Dizon). Is he the hero that struggles to survive or the antihero that lets his very walls crumble? As the movie progresses, one could switch answers. However, the verdict can only be made towards the end where everything has been exhausted.

If there is a single thing that has to be noted about Laxamana’s third feature film to date, it is no less than its effective power of inducing sentimentality without any overflow. One could easily fear that a parent-child story staged with a poverty-stricken backdrop is largely hackneyed, even melodramatic, that it would be impossible to digest its very purpose.

The message in Magkakabaung is apparent: it wants to tell a straightforward tale through realistic characterization and intrinsic portrayal of its cast. The story as a whole is a solid foundation that these characters adamantly hold onto. Tension builds up as audiences are expected to reinforce their care for them. Eyes alone can scream a million words that dialogues can never achieve. Dizon is able to portray his role in a very restrained manner, apparently as directed by Laxamana in line with the general ambiance of the movie.

Curiously, this is not entirely a fictitious story. Inspired by a news item about a father who took his dead daughter’s corpse from the morgue, Magkakabaung evolved into the story of a single father who accidentally killed her eight-year old daughter. We are set to be acquainted to Randy instead of merely being spectators to an engaging albeit heart-wrenching tragedy. This is where intimacy matures from its core. Even though it was not to the best intention of Laxamana to utilize handheld camera all throughout the film, it has left a rather intimate look at the various relationships that sum up Randy’s life. Some would see fault in the shaky camera shots while others would overlook this cinematic choice in order to pave way for the most important relationship that Randy has established: that which grow stoically between the protagonist and the viewers as a character beyond the screen.

From the very start, Randy knows that the burden of life is not exclusive to their shortcomings. Despite it all, he continues to chase life as if it is an animal to be ensnared. In the absence of a wife, he falls prey to a cheating girl friend in the person of Neri (Chanel Latorre who plays with the same name in Laxamana’s 2013 film “Babagwa”). More than this, he is a victim of funeral owner Pablo (Emilio Garcia), who meets with him, clad with deceit, only to offer him a deal to sell Angeline’s cadaver to medical students in exchange of money. Without any family member to go to, he seeks help from Mabel (Gladys Reyes), the mother of Angeline, who has her own family to be concerned about. During their confrontation, more emotions are tossed in the open. It is hard to believe how they as parents have grown accustomed to living in the idea that the life (and death) of their daughter is either’s fault.

Apparent is the irony: the coffin maker is powerless of serving the appropriate burial for his daughter. How painful it is to see how the impoverished Randy has to go through these ill times while trying his best to face the fact that he has already lost Angeline. The man, who works hard in making coffins for 280 pesos a day, is more than unable to provide. And yet there is no sign of dereliction. He has lived a poor man’s life, striving hard with his capabilities at hand, and now faces the reality he has long since thrown away.

As the zenith of his struggles is reached, aptly depicted is his driving of a tricycle—or metaphorically the least he can have for a hearse—all too slow and tranquil, until he reaches an empty spot where he finally gathers everything to its end. Clouded with ache, his pain is heard all over the place, echoing to the tickles of our ears.

The throbbing carries on up to the last line of the end credit, and even afterwards with Randy’s troubles transferred to the back of our minds. The success of the movie is discernible to all senses: the vision of Randy’s eyes; the smell of coffin, its woods and stinging odor of paint as it is made; the cry of Angeline in the wee hours of night; the taste of life’s paradox; and the transcending touch of their lives, harrowing our bones to reach the marrows.

Without a doubt, Magkakabaung has successfully outdone Laxamana’s previous films to a great extent, thanks to his resolve in being honest with each frame. As for his intention of promoting the excellence of his fellow Kapampangans, he spearheads KACIMOV (Kapampangan Cinema Movement) that has the same vision of empowering the language spoken in the province of Pampanga through cinematic endeavors. In the movie, apart from it being largely in the local language, six original Kapampangan songs are featured on the side, corresponding to the director’s decisive goal of propping up his roots.

Furthermore, it must be regarded that Laxamana is able to let the meekness of the story and the characters speak for themselves: a humble journey leading to humble victories. Randy has accomplished his mission and so has the film in so many ways thus far.

Even before Magkakabaung has joined the side section of Metro Manila Film Festival last year, it has triumphantly showcased itself as a fruit of passion at the Montreal World Film Festival last August and at the Harlem International Film Festival where Allen Dizon was hailed as the Best Actor (his first major acting award outside the Philippines).

In November 2014, the film has been recognized at the Hanoi International Film Festival, where it bagged the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award for best film as well as the best actor award for Dizon (winning over Hollywood actor Ralfh Fiennes of the Best Length Film “Two Women from Russia”).

Its journey goes on as it marks itself as a frontrunner in the New Wave competition of MMFF 2014. Shrugging off the brilliance of such craft would equate to ignoring thought-out storytelling which is paramount in effectively channelling a film to its audiences.

magkakabaung poster

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