Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong (Mes de Guzman, 2005)
English Title: The Road to Kalimugtong
The pre-credit sequence shows the geographic route and the mundane daily routine of two children to the elementary school located in the barrio of Kalimugtong. Their day starts with a freshly-heated pot of coffee (the staple breakfast for the people of Benguet in Northern Philippines), which is followed by an arduous trek through the forest, the farms, past a rocky stream, until they stop to change into their school clothes. Intermittent sounds of rebel gunfire are heard through the trees. They arrive safely and just in time for the chiming of the school bell. The kids are greeted by their teacher who initiates their morning lesson.
The physical road to the barrio of Kalimugtong is already arduous and seemingly unfair for the frail bodies and the juvenile minds of the youngsters. However, director Mes de Guzman is far more interested in that metaphorical road to Kalimugtong --- the one that involves the troubles and conflicts of the kids and the people surrounding them. In that sense, the metaphorical road lacks the constancy and the predictability of the kids' daily trek to school. The lessons they learn in their passage feels far more important than the academic nuggets of knowledge learned in school.
Made with a meager budget and with a small crew, Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong (The Road to Kalimugtong) succeeds because of the inherent sincerity in its creation. There are few false notes in the film, but these are mostly negligible. There's very little dramatization, but the two actors (Analyn Bangsil and Rhenuel Ordono) succeed in carrying the film through their natural charm and innocence. The elder non-professional actors do not fare as well but are still very competent given their very limited roles. It is when De Guzman strays from the realism that the film reveals its flaws. It is when the actors opt to act and perform that the film falls a notch lower in believability.
But that's mere nitpicking as the film, as a whole, is quite good. While it doesn't have the subtle mechanics of Jeffrey Jeturian's Kubrador (The Bet Collector, 2006) or Brillante Mendoza's Manoro (The Teacher, 2006), Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong succeeds in detailing the blatant ills of the Philippines' educational system and its surrounding issues on poverty without too overt in its advocacy. The film is narrated and is shown through the point of view of the children and as such, the presentation of the issues are filtered by their inherent naivety and innocence, making the exercise a lot more palatable and doubly poignant.
The incapacity of the public school teachers is dealt with compassion as the children's teacher is seen as a second mother rather than the culprit for the children's mal-education (the teacher is shown to have failed the teacher's board exams thrice, and despite that, is being allowed to teach the kids). The kids' eldest brother's pilfering of a few vegetables in the market is softened by the idea that in the point of view of the kids, such pilfering spells out survival. The kid's other brother's chronic lying is treated with humor rather than as a narrative arc for melodramatics. It is quite good that de Guzman belittles these character faults in the purview of the bigger issue of society's faults. In the end, de Guzman succeeds in transforming these film characters into real human beings: breathing, working, and dreaming in an impoverished community.
Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong is an exposé of a portion of Philippine society that seldom gets reasonable attention. It doesn't degrade itself by pointing fingers at people but instead spells out the aches and burdens of survival without sacrificing the familial bonds that have remained intact notwithstanding the poverty dealt upon them. It is a heartfelt film, alarming enough to inflict awareness of the virtues that survive the difficulty of traversing the road to the depicted characters' respective Kalimugtongs.