Nonoy L. Lauzon
Certainly among the most notable full-length feature debuts in Philippine cinema this year is Kapampangan filmmaker Carlo Enciso Catu’s Ari, a poignant character-driven drama about a province’s poet laureate and his encounter with a youngster who, in common with his peers, has no practical sense of culture and heritage.
The film is one of the entries in the New Wave indie section of this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. In more ways than one, it is a story of awakening and transformation, not only for a boy trying to secure identity for himself but also for a man in the twilight of his life searching for affirmation for paths he had taken and pursuits of his choosing. As people these days have no faith, much less find value, in prospects for a lucrative creative industry, the film assumes great significance. It’s high time that the world embark on the paradigm shift with regards to the artistic professions and open people’s eyes to the reality that a life lived best, and to the fullest, is one enriched with meaning by virtue of tangible engagement with the arts.
It is some heavy stuff that one would not expect from a film by a first-time director. But fortuitously, such film is here to curiously exhibit the boldness and the courage to make the stand and take up the advocacy. Making heroes out of culture bearers is a most welcome cinematic agenda and a noble act reserved for true films of distinction. The “ari” (Pampangan vernacular for king) of the film’s title is one such culture bearer and the tradition he embodies is most crucial for a country that may rightfully and fruitfully thrive with the quest to preserve the healthy heterogeneity brought about by the diverse cultures and peoples that altogether define its very nationhood.
This brings audiences to a realization that the lack of appreciation for artists and creatives as productive members of society is the prime culprit for the prevalent squalor in the world more inclined to destruction and destructiveness in direct antithesis to the very principle that underlies all art and endeavors of imagination. The urge for progress, development, modernity can’t be an excuse to discard or do away with artists and their craft. A society can only advance and remain sane if it gives due recognition to the contribution of its artists beyond the rhetoric and the honorific gesture of conferring plaques, trophies, medallions or crowns.
It is this kind of epiphany that one youth’s journey in the film enables. Performances ring truer with a cast of predominantly non-professional actors. Ronwaldo Martin as the teen protagonist particularly shines for a screen acting that wonderfully blends rawness and edginess with one-hundred-percent characteristic sincerity. One can completely empathize with his portrayal of a lost village lad festered by a deprivation of kinship with an absentee family he appears to have and by a sheer despair for a cultural rootlessness symptomatic of a disease and a curse that his generation is somewhat fated to suffer and endure. When he chances upon the possibility of forging ties with a venerated poet and his common-law wife, audiences get to share his silent rapture for a found connectivity that, for all intents, serves as the needed antidote to the existential angst at the core of his being.
Ari boasts of an all-too culture-specific and peculiar scenario that viewers wherever else in the world can relate to and identify with after all – in an exact testament to the immense power that the medium of cinema retains to this day, precisely, to bridge cultures and bind peoples regardless of class, color and creed.
Note: This review was originally posted on glitter.ph.
Nonoy L. Lauzon is the Programmer for Screenings at the U.P. Film Institute. He has double degrees in Philosophy and Humanities from the University of the Philippines. He has previously worked for a number of national newspapers including the Philippine Journal, People’s Journal and The Manila Times. He used to contribute a column for the old Mirror Weekly and now regularly writes for two of the country’s leading national tabloid dailies. He is currently pursuing an M.A. in Media Studies (Film) at the U.P. College of Mass Communication.