There have been many moments in my life when I felt disappointed. For instance, when I received a clear envelope for a Christmas exchange gift back when I was a kid; or when Alex Turner cut his hair and started pretending like a British Elvis; or when The Hobbit movie came out and it was horrible and it didn’t do the book justice; or whenever I would watch a 2010s live video of The Strokes which, to be fair, is my favorite band. There are many more instances, and usually I would just forget them in an hour or so later. But having been through the worst, such as your favorite indie rock songwriter changing appearance, I still haven’t got quite used to being disappointed. It still bites. And I rediscovered that fact about myself last Saturday when in a twist of fate I was able to watch Iadya Mo Kami.
Like I always say, I don’t take pleasure in negatively criticizing any topic, and it is of great suffering that I have to say bad things even if they were about matters that genuinely disappointed me. Like for instance, Ricky Lee’s writing in this particular film we speak of.
To be fair, Mel Chionglo’s direction was generally good. He was able to bring out the best in his actors, and consequently they were able to deliver well on-screen. Moreover, the technical aspects of the film is of professional quality, a trait that is foundational to good filmmaking. For example, the cinematography is spectacular, utilizing well the beauty of the surrounding mountains that take up a significant portion of the movie’s mise-en-scene. This is augmented by an excellent work in color grading that gives the picture such vibrance and nostalgia. And who could forget that wonderful work in production design which makes the characters and the different physical elements in the narrative come alive.
So on the superficial level, Iadya Mo Kami looks and feels good. It was promising, from the title to the visuals. And this is precisely why I’m saddened by it, because everything was great–that is, except for the writing.
For context, the film is basically about a certain Father Greg who gets reassigned to a parish high up in the mountains. Through his encounters with the the proletariats living in the area and the powerful elite clan of the goatherd Julian, we are introduced to Greg’s struggles and his attempts to detach from his fleshly desires. In a lot of ways, it’s a commentary on the nature of religious life and the institution which governs it, particularly the Roman Catholic Church. With that established, let me begin highlighting in brief why I think the writing for the film fails in a lot of ways.
For me the most noticeable flaw in the screenplay is that the pace is too draggy. I don’t have much of a problem if the writer is merely taking his time to establish the characters, their motivations, and their inner struggles and undercurrents, in the same way that the great writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda takes his sweet time in cooking the characters for his films. But in the case of Iadya, there’s no other way to say it other than there was just too much time wasted on less valuable elements so that it didn’t really pay off in the end. It makes you feel like your choice to stay awake until the ending was a choice badly made. In short, the film’s a tad bit boring.
As an example, I’d like to highlight the fact that the script contains a number of superfluous characters that aren’t really relevant to the entire narrative. For instance, we have the rural bishop who does nothing to motivate (or discourage) Greg to carry out a plan of action; then we have that one sickly guy called Kulit (subtitled Mr. Obstinate) who happens to be Greg’s colleague; and then we have, for some strange reason, the Pope. To be fair, I somewhat understand Kulit’s role as the demonstration of ‘the weak flesh,’ a theme which fits well to the story of Father Greg. But my problem with him is that his addition to the tale is a bit late, and his character doesn’t really get developed for him to be relevant to the story. I am also not quite aware on why the Pope has to make an appearance; I don’t see his inclusion in the narrative as something which enhances the depth of the film’s inner meaning. Thus, I believe these characters can be omitted because they do nothing to push the narrative forward. In truth, I feel that they are merely distractions that function only to further slow down the sluggish pace.
To be fair, there’s a slightly interesting turn further down the storyline. But I say ‘slightly’ because I feel that it was a bit forced and predictable. I also found the use of flashbacks to introduce this particular turn a bit dull and lazy. I mean, isn’t there any other way to reveal the details without using that age-old tactic? Not to mention, the reaction of the protagonists after the momentous event was illogical and bland. Frankly, the ending did nothing to resuscitate the dying script. I felt betrayed.
I know that Ricky Lee is a great writer, and for his works in advancing contemporary Filipino literature, he deserves every ounce of my respect. But as to what exactly happened with Iadya Mo Kami, I am not sure, and I don’t think I want to know. Indeed, Lee’s work in Ringgo: The Dog Shooter is commendable, and having seen it the night before Iadya premiered, I guess my expectations failed.
But you know, everyone messes up sometimes, and my faith in Ricky Lee as one of the luminaries of modern Filipino writing is still intact. As I said earlier, I usually forget about disappointments, and I will most likely forget about this one as well.
Give me a week.
Iadya Mo Kami premiered July 2, 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 Musical Score, Best Production Design, and the Special Jury Prize.