J Pilapil Jacobo
The contest of wills that ensues between the high priestess Pinailog (Nora Aunor) and her heiress-apparent Dowokan (Barbie Forteza) portrayed in the Kinaray-a film Tuos revisits not only the tension between structure and agency, and the cleave between the archaic and the modern attending the former opposition, but also the irreciprocal terms of kinship that must nevertheless be resolved by female commiseration, precisely because the conditions of rift and the concord that must be agreed upon in spite of the poison are imbricated within the gender of the gift itself.
While the epic past is animated to enquire on the mythic origins of the kept maiden, Tuos only weaves Hiligaynon orature into national cinema to naturalize autochthonous practices of exception which turn women into objects of inalienable exchange so that a community may lay claim to the civility it seeks to establish as historic. The contemporary cannot learn anything from this method of rarification. While folklore must be read as that discursive formation desired by narratives of colonial capital to be obliterated, so that the parties underwriting the potlatch may finally turn to the spell of the fetish, the epic, in this case, is that mode of consciousness that seeks to achieve its own obsolescence. Why the repetition, if silence, and not resonance, is the future of the voice?
The paradox of this premise justifies however the visuality of the textile between orature and cinema, as Denise O’Hara and Roderick Cabrido’s Tuos probes into the dilemma of a lineage that may succumb to discontinuing the long duration of its primitive entelechy, through a montage of scenes which concatenate the precarity of the contract between humans and daemons instituted through the perpetual vestality of the “binukot.” If woman must be withheld to assure the polity the sacrosanct secret that protects its insular singularity deep within the montane tropics, then the pact with such archaism can only be defiled through the nubile body of the princess who refuses to be beautiful by opening herself up to ravage. The predisposition to this hymenal rupture is visually designed through diaphanous fabrics: veils, kerchiefs, skirts, nets, curtains finally metonymized through the image of an arachnid who has yet to complete her gossamer web. And yet this does not mean that vestality is superficial, if sheer vestments can make the secret available, particularly when a glance through the textile turns into the scopophiliac gaze; the film is telling us something about the permeable and the interstitial: what the scopic can traverse and how certain instances, albeit rapturous, persuade us to be opaque. Such predicament is cinematic.
Diaphany is that opportunity of concealment. And yet, the translucence affords one to see through, to look out into the world from this privileged anonymity. When Pinailog witnesses Dowokan surrendering her purity to Daupan, she becomes prone herself to the rumor of the sex that has been denied from her millennial ancestry. Her voyeurism articulates the axiom of the violence that befalls her body as the last of the virgins. The spirit of the gift does not dwell in an exception from corporeal experience per se; it distinguishes its reciprocity as disavowal of the carnal knowledge annunciated when the coitus becomes factitious as vision. The binukot must be hidden from sex because she must be distant from the plethora of its plaisances. Furthermore, she cannot be an aspect of such a spectacle; the genital act must remain private, redeemed from sibylline judgment. The sacred and the profane must from each other remain safe. The eye is the most diaphanous of organs; the contemplation of seduction must forever be obscured by the vestal subject. With pleasure threatening to be proximate, she must will all of her diaphanous access to the earthly sensorium to turn into a carapace. The shamaness is supreme potentate of her kin, because her erotic patience is most adamantine.
Nora Aunor portrays the resistivity to damage with so much fortitude, that the moment of her capture can only be devastating; such traumaturgy is less an aftermath than the epicenter of the defiance almost always held with grace by Barbie Forteza. There is antipodal tremor in this duel of acting, with Aunor’s quake choreographically staged in her avian dance to punctuate a wedding rite—a lesson on how dexterously solitude can find its path alongside the rites of romance—and Forteza’s fragility aggravated at her ineptitude to convey the songs of her folk, while her hands cannot wait to snap the strings of her lone lute.
Only the defeat of Eros can repair the hymenal breach; Aunor vanquishes the demon with epic precision! When Forteza finally accedes to the shamanic succession, she understands the gift as a place where the anterior agent gains prescience and precedence. From here, Pinailog descends to the sea to die, as rivers cascade to belong to, where else, but the abyss; and Dowokan proceeds to live, as psyche watching herself think through the millennium, within the cinematheque.
What is the tropical divine but an ultimate contention with erotic duress?