Review: Bakal Boys (dir. Ralston Jover, 2009)
by J. Pilapil Jacobo
The habit of locating the landscape of the new cinema in almost every destitute milieu in the metropolis raises the ethical concern of what remains to be told when scenographic procedures, in their absolute exposure of urban poor indignity, almost always preclude subjects from essaying a human position against and in spite of their social predicament. The poor have nothing left to say in poverty pornography. The subaltern is denied of all chance to reside in in the social circuits of language, and participate in the militant struggle for a better life, as a figure of—in Native American literary critic Gerald Vizenor’s terms—“survivance.”
And yet, Bakal Boys seems to exhibit a behavior that departs from the exercises of screen exoticisms. The film premises its deviations on the question of grief, and asks whether one could still mourn when survival, particularly its material possibility, is always already a deplorable social condition. How does a character grieve when sentiments are not permitted to seep into the system, to take even the form of a “structure of feeling”? When persons seek emotional closure within this economic order, what sentimental practices are laid out as the markers of collapse and recovery?
In the case of Ralston Jover’s piece, what remains compelling in the setting up of the scenes of impoverishment is a spectrum of melancholic methods that bereaved subjects employ, because the loss can only be worked through in intimate terms.
Bungal (Vincent Olano) disappears during an expedition of a band of Baseco boys to look for an anchor that older divers have left behind after finding a sunken boat. Of a temperament almost too intense for his age, Bungal believes in mermaids who could offer one a felicitous streak of luck. He also tells of his seaside town where fishermen may never return from sea. We see him drawing on the sand crosses simulating that tropical cemetery. Knowing the fanciful and the deathly, Bungal must depart from the narrative to give way to the choreographic instances of bereavement when the situation is routinely proposed as desensitizing and its random characters far from sensitive performers, if not at all sensate subjects.
Two figures of mourning are to be examined as species born and raised from Bungal’s disappearance.
The first is already familiar, for it is tense, vigorous, histrionic. And although there is space to repeating the gestures of the abandoned kin, Gina Pareño, as the grandmother who offers it all up to Allah, may perhaps be the last in the lineage of this figure of anxiety. Hysteria is of course curbed in the depiction, to be fair to Ms. Pareño, but we feel this species of traumaturgy has reached a final phase; her body of grief interprets the phrases of entreaty to be translatable as nervous postures in the face of mortality.
Utoy (Meljun Ginto), best friend of the disappeared, demonstrates the other figure of mourning, because he is made to speak for a subject considered alien to such emotive exchanges. What does a child know of that abyss, loneliness? The figure that exposes us as unbelievers is that of patience. Utoy awaits the return of his friend as much as he anticipates an understanding of the disappearance itself. He searches for him at various sites of the friendship: in the alleys of their mischief, and by the shores of their play. When the waiting ends, this figure marks the sand as cemeterial, as the ground of the leave-taking. All this he must ritualize in silence, which is only broken when she seeks out Nanay Salvia, for an embrace. And how can one read that final frame? That immersion into the waters of the bay may teach us about survivance—into an age of iron of what could be a man of steel at last, even with that speechless body.