J. Pilapil Jacobo
The cinematic articulation of the Philippine diaspora offers a historical opportunity to foreground the insertion of such an instance into the global narrative of migration. As a scopic device that maps out the economies of scale which retard the movements of Filipino migrant work, cinema, especially when it heralds itself as independent, can speed up the telling of the lives which have fallen out of the traffic. It can also report the coordinates of the displacement as well as the elliptical routes of engagement shot through the cartographic palimpsest. Diasporic cinema can then enliven the discourse, as, pace Edward W. Said, a counterpoint that syncopates the manner of the dispersion. A counterpoint elects interpretation into the order of contemporaneous histories across contemporary spheres. It is an indigene of critique.
Accomplishments in the diasporic imagination have been single-handedly modulated by Gil Portes, in ‘Merika (1984), Minsan May Isang Pangarap (1995), and Homecoming (2003). In all three, the right to take exception from the protocols of departure is paramount, as long as the individual assumes a position on the world-historical after engaging the “anti-conquest” in the contact zone. Efforts like Sana Maulit Muli (1995), Milan (2004), and In My Life (2009) have relegated the Filipino immigrant to a lachrymose figure that belabors the national melodrama of community and its concominant estrangements. Hannah Espia’s Transit (2013) is confident that it has proposed a counterpoint to the habits of diasporic cinema by situating the Philippine predicament in Israel, an originary locus of global migrancy that has troped itself into a translational zone despite its modern inception as a strategic neo-colony. Filipino migrant work, in various phases of documentation, is set to be told, for sure, with some degree of facility, within this milieu, and yet the fetishistic commitment to describe the ethnicity of this locale falters in engaging the trauma that besieges the Israeli state—the Palestinian question, a most peripheral but the least distant counterpoint to the Philippine predicament. The failure to determine the truth of this confluence accounts for a perspective on the diaspora drafted from the script of xenophobic neurosis.
The structure of the narrative masks such insipidity by repeating a short story of a rather single effect in five episodes, each one devoted to a character. The technique of recurrence is at times persuasive in visualizing a leitmotif of entrapment within the urgency to move in and out of quotidian intransigence, but the quintuple rhythm is incapable of building up resonances. The inclination toward an insight on sequence and simultaneity is detectable, but that aspiration remains within the realm of conjecture. The story repeats but tension does not accumulate. Scenes are appended sometimes to extend an affect, and when that happens, the effect is less ironical than hyperbolic. A collective experience is diffracted into five vignettes, and yet, there is nothing contrapuntal in echoing denials of a single perspective. An errant thought that can be contested in the name of the multiple-argument never takes shape, because the point of view is not altered. The characters delineated after Janet (Irma Adlawan) must nonetheless discredit the feminine insight that somehow charges the Philippine presence in Israel with a certain deliberation. The paranoiac (Ping Medina), the passive aggressive (Mercedes Cabral), the depressive (Jasmine Curtis Smith), and the hyper-active (Marc Justine Alvarez) mark out the coordinates of despair that endangers Janet’s agency. The actress’s hysterical investment is arguably earned. Adlawan needed to compensate by aggregating a repertoire of shrill sentiments to overwrite that rather stentorian judgment on the futility of maternal suffering.
To excise the idea of Palestine from an image of Israel seen through Philippine eyes is to occlude the complex historical circumstances which have made possible the visibility of Transit as a Filipino film production shot in the Middle East. With “Palestine” entirely out of the picture, it becomes easy for the film to represent the Israeli state as dismissive of the possibility of a legal Filipino presence. And without a counterpoint to its precarity, the Philippine predicament fails to find a ground where a claim to relevance can be demarcated. We are not asking a rewriting of the screenplay. A moment where a metonym of an “outer” space “within” appears should be enough to open up the film as a persuasively global engagement. A text must allow some scissions into its surface to allow a totality of traumas to emerge as vital to the analysis of a problematic.
Arising from the impasse are two risky figures of transnational subjectivity: Joshua (Justine Alvarez), the child who is interpellated into the rites of the Torah in Jerusalem and Haifa but is doomed to endure listening to monsoonal tales in Manila; and Yael (Jasmine Curtis Smith), the Filipino Israeli who is entitled to the Jewish homeland but rejects her entanglement with the Philippine post-colony. The racial consciousness nurtured by these enchantments can only breed a species of Filipino racism. Alienated from contrapuntality, neither Joshua nor Yael will think through the split in their identities through what W. E. B Du Bois calls as “double consciousness.” How does one respond to the cheer hanging upon Alvarez’s voice, and the incipient vacancy all over Curtis Smith’s face? There is hatred deep within them. Its particulate object is the Philippine.