Pisay (Auraeus Solito, 2007)
English Title: Philippine Science
Two years after the debut of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005), director Auraeus Solito returns to the Cinemalaya Film Festival with Pisay (Philippine Science). The film's title is culled from the term of endearment of most Filipinos to the Philippine Science High School, a government-funded educational institution whose curriculum is geared into training young minds, filtered from the rest by a rigorous examination process, for careers in science.
The highly specialized academic training breeds a curious and unique culture among its students. Characterized by vicious competition, contained social lives, and harsh predestination, the Philippine Science culture feels very much like a tribal unit, separated from the suggested norm of those outside the cemented walls of the institution, but still operating a reflex against any extraneous stimuli that comes its way.
It is a culture Solito completely understands, being an alumnus of the high school. He drapes his film with astute details like the hall board that shows the regularly updated rankings of all its students, the crowded dormitories, the infallible accents of its selfless teachers, the quizzes and the examinations. Above the facile details however, is the frank sentimentality that pervades the four short dramas that constitute the film. The four years that the students slave away for a high school diploma also serves as the chapters of the film.
The freshman year fancies a budding romance between one of the high school's most gifted students and a wealthy girl. The romance turns out to be an unwanted distraction that the physics teacher (Eugene Domingo) finds ways to dissolve. The sophomore year tells the story of a homesick student who struggles through the rigors of his daily classes and nightly stays in his dorm room which he poetically refers to as his cage. The third year introduces a stratified system of dividing bright students and weak students for the maximization of government funds. Despite the system, a socially-aware girl from the weak class finds a spark of hope in a boy from the bright class. The final year is semi-autobiographical for Solito. It tells the story of a boy who is about to make the biggest decision of his life: to continue his science education or to find resolution in his heart by pursuing a college degree in the arts.
Solito's sentimentality is forgiveable; he has earned enough brownie points to indulge us with something much more personal than his previous efforts. Moreover, the film's sentimentality is evenly sprinkled into the picture to completely denounce the oft-used tropes that pervade the genre. Much more interesting is how there's an authentic feeling of growing up in the film; the initial needs of romance and stipends are quickly replaced by political awareness which inadvertently transforms to activism.
Solito again breaks the boundaries of a condensed social unit (the same way he turned the gay-friendly family of petty criminals in Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and the forest-bound lesbian love affairs in Tuli (Circumcision, 2005) into endearing elements that showcase very universal theme). Solito understands the power of his medium; that it's not enough to dwell in the gorgeous memories of a happily spent past and to entertain, there has to be something much more pertinent to be told in his accurate dioramas of high school living. The vivid transformation of his characters is not only touching, it is also moving.
This film is in competition for the 3rd Cinemalaya Film Festival.