J. Pilapil Jacobo
A world is imagined to be more shapely when the geometric configuration of the sphere takes over the idea of landscape. Or else terrain falls back into that ancient conceit of flatness. Of course this historicizing belongs to the colonial order, but the cartographic claim is enabling for those whose place on earth is threatened by the techne of, let’s say, geodesy. Such is the rift that needs to be resolved by the eponymous character played by Nora Aunor in Mes de Guzman’s Ang Kwento ni Mabuti.
The narrative pursues the labors of a peasant woman who forages what remains of the verdure of a piece of land that belongs to her clan but now needs to be ransomed from certain laws which demarcate the earth and expel those who have long nurtured it. Mabuti’s mother (Josephina Estabillo) dreads the day that will find them living in a hut suspended from a tree at the edge of a cliff, but Mabuti refuses to succumb to that banishment from a sphere they have already emplotted as sacred.
To anticipate the good that is to come, and to internalize this practice of patience, Mabuti assumes the role of the shaman: summoner of the spirits, interlocutor of the elements, Aeolian harp on Nueva Vizcayan earth that plays the music of the spheres. With saliva and stone, Mabuti converses with the pharmakon (poison) of venom as the pharmakon (antidote) of devotion, bargains with the universe to remove the contagion, and restitutes the order of benevolence. All shall be well, because the world is enfolded into a state of grace. It may not be visible, but the good, in God’s time, shall foreground itself. The figure that completes the sphere is an embrace from the firmaments. Mabuti is a widow, and her son (Arnold Reyes) and daughter (Mara Lopez) have been taken away from her by metropolitan commerce and diasporic exchange, but with crone-mother and four elfin girl-grandchildren, the shaman asserts the insurmountable place of sympathy in a world that must wax in fortitude when fortune is on the wane.
Mes de Guzman has crafted a film whose milieu musters the enclosures and the extensions of what could be the scope of a cinema of a considerable degree of independence: the sphere of a locality whose roots and rhizomes can only allow the cosmos to open itself up to both providence and peril, which includes a bridge that is never completed, and military checkpoints which must delay travel into the city. The agon that emerges out of the depths must tilt fate toward disaster or away from it. This cusp allows the hailstone to hold within its core a precipitate of insight on cosmic change. As well, such a time commands the swarm to hover above the ambivalence of an ethic. This “dialectical image” empowers the writing to pursue the mystique against all manner of mystifying. The crisis then is only fomented not to threaten the place of the good but to test the ground on which its matter could speak.
The money that Mabuti inherits from Nelia (Sue Prado), a woman summoned and surrendered by the local insurgency, is not so much a metaphor of corruption but a metonym of corruptibility. The spell around the cash stolen from possibly the same bank that is keeping the title of Mabuti’s ancestral land may enchant the shaman. It is her misrecognition of the sorcery that must be apprehended. The good is intimated in the promise of goods, but only after the fetish about capital decays. Hence, two prospects from within Mabuti’s sphere appeal as objects of the gift: the four girl-children’s collegiate education and the crone-mother’s recovery from metastasis. And yet, these options remain improvident. When Mabuti finally resolves the compromise, the categorical imperative divorces itself from any possible imperial category. Mabuti is not turned into a philanthropist. At that moment, the exchange value is hinged upon another girl-child, Marife, the daughter of the insurgent who sneaks the money inside Mabuti’s bag before she is killed by the military. Marife’s term of ransom may be fiscalized by a known amount, but it can only be accounted for by an interminable capacity—Mabuti herself—the only sympathy that can correspond to the girl-child’s subaltern state.
The sanction of this ethic is suffered with an elegiac pace by the syntax of the sympathy, Nora Aunor. Her understanding of the pastoral is accurate, and almost exact in calibrating a sense of biome whose radii are aware of catastrophe and attentive to the fulfillment of the shamanic mandate. It is a range that understands both limit and infinity. Aunor’s formal attitude is most assured here, then. Her late style has become an archive of attunements that can relate with either primordial kernel or final foliage. Earthen is the range. Because she is comfortable treading the reed-path with swine, we forget the contempt we have attached to the animal, and our zootropy recuperates.
We have been instructed well on how Aunor enacts a moment of conviction to tell a truth or to release oneself from victimry, but the method of her act in this film homes in on crisis: the tentativity that surrounds its valences, the articulations of a dilemma that nonetheless electrifies the spirit, and that static moment where the only charge that matters is the epiphanic self.
Is anyone else capable of shifting into tenses of terror perfect and progressive upon finding out the excess in one’s baggage is money, money, money?
The ensemble of women that accompanies this performance must be celebrated for providing Aunor with formidable foils to her character’s predicament. Josephina Estabillo, the termagant, is such a levity. Sue Prado, the renegade, is imperturbable. Mara Lopez, the lovelorn, is by turns melancholic and sanguine. Not every seasoned performer knows the difference.
Ang Kwento ni Mabuti reveals to us that there are still stars, and the stars are still, in Nora’s eyes. Superstars, they remain. And we must gaze, gaze, gaze.
Image source: http://www.interaksyon.com/entertainment/number-of-new-filipino-films-in-september-unprecedented-fdcp/