(Disclaimer: This is not a political article, this is a film review!)
In recent times there has been a false dichotomy setup by the lesser informed that if you say you are anti-Martial Law then logically you would fall into the category of someone supporting the yellow family–this, in truth, is quite a terrible analysis. It’s as if you can’t choose to abhor the atrocities of both sides, and that you are merely a mindless, floating piece of debris caught in the waves of an ocean that could only bring you to either one of the two shores. Let me get this out of the way: this is not a Jollibee vs. Mcdo, or GMA vs. ABS-CBN type of question. And you are not merely a citizen controlled by the magnetism of monolothic oligarchs, unable to make up your own mind. This is a question that is of greater significance, a question that requires much more thought and study that Facebook memes will simply not suffice. This is a question that has haunted our history as a people since that most infamous felon was ousted in 1986. This is the question: “Was it worth it?” And if so, “What now?”
The reason I am in praise of the film EDSA directed by Alvin Yapan is precisely because it presents this question without the baggage of having to mention the names of a few powerful elite. As Yapan stressed during the Q and A portion of the gala screening of his piece at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016, this is a film that is essentially about us, the Filipino people, and not about the achievements of a certain political party. And this attempt to remove the subject matter from the claws of oligarchy is, in my opinion, noteworthy.
On the surface level, EDSA is a frame-story of a handful of people living and working in proximity to the leviathan highway of the same name. EDSA, that is, the great highway, is iconic because of its role as the battleground of the People Power I revolution which ousted the dictatorship in ‘86–the event which is central to the development of the themes in the narrative. It is also unforgettable, and the mere mention of its name produces shivers down the spine (at least, for me) because of its association to the words trapik, badtrip, and pu%$#@&&*!!!! But the film does not take place in the 1980s, it takes place in the now when EDSA’s traffic jams have reached crisis levels, snatching 2.4 billion pesos from the national treasury every single day.
Indeed, the film possesses thematic depth, with its use of the great highway as a grand metaphor for national progress, and its commentary on institutions such as religion, education, and authority. But the actual writing and the way this theme is expressed is what astounds me.
For me, it’s not really an incredible plot; it’s great but not extremely impressive. However, its simplicity is made up for by how well the writer establishes the characters and shapes them to life. Plus, these characters are not merely additions to the narrative, they all function to represent the different social classes that make up the modern-day Filipino social stratification. Hence, they not only turn into engaging entities that one could easily connect with, but more so they function as symbols that enhance the depth of the story. And frankly speaking, a narrative becomes much more difficult the more characters are added; thus, although the storyline is simple, the writing is complex because of how well the characters are treated, and this naturally results in a sound narrative.
With regards to the technicalities such as cinematography, editing, and production design, the film is solid. For instance, that opening sequence of a montage of EDSA (the highway) in which the colors yellow, red, and blue are isolated, is in all honesty beautiful–which is ironic, because Metro Manila itself is yet far from being easy on the eyes. Editing and production design are likewise impressive, and nothing lacks attention to detail. If I have but one complaint, that would be the sound design which at some scenes sounded rough. But I do understand that they had to shoot this in the bowels of the great city, and thus it would be difficult to have clean and natural sounding diegetics. To be fair, it’s only distracting at some parts, but I still I hope they would do something to improve the problematic scenes in order for the film to be holistically good.
Finally, there is the educational value of the film, of which the director admitted to making his work accessible for the purposes of distributing the product to schools. It’s a wonderful endeavor to create films designed to educate young people especially now when misinformation and historical revisionism is rampant in our society. That would perhaps explain why the film does not resort to exceedingly dark themes, and instead speaks of EDSA’s significance through light-hearted material.
Alvin Yapan also mentioned the film’s attempt to draw references from Lino Brocka’s 1975 masterpiece Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag as a means to juxtapose pre- and post- EDSA revolution Philippines, and if we are watchful enough, we’d notice these tributes brilliantly ingrained in the film. But in my opinion, there is also one more film of significance that we could compare to Yapan’s EDSA, and that is none other than the 1980 Gawad Urian award-winning film by Ishmael Bernal, Manila by Night, which like Yapan’s is a frame-story that uses the whole of Manila as a grand metaphor to comment on the political milieu of the times. But with its mission to be accessible to all audiences, EDSA is less daunting, and much easier for the average moviegoer to digest. Frankly, it’s a difficult compromise: to honestly teach a subject that is controversial by nature, and also to teach it in a way that accommodates all types of viewers. But in this case, EDSA succeeds in being both artful and educational.
Thus I would highly recommend Alvin Yapan’s masterpiece EDSA. It is both entertaining and enlightening, a trait that any piece of art should aspire to. Being well-crafted and meaningful, it is highly worth a watch.
EDSA premiered June 30, 2016 as part of the World Premieres Film Festival which will run until July 10 at SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Greenbelt 3, Uptown Mall, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, and Cinematheque Centre Manila. The film won awards for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, and Best Sound.