Ploning (Dante Nico Garcia, 2008)
Ploning, a Cuyonon folk song, is essentially a plea from a boy to her lover for the latter to wait for him and remember him as he leaves her for a different land. The final verses of the song bare the boy's wish that the girl keep a stone wrapped with her handkerchief, as reminder that his love for her is undying. It's a lovely song, with a melody that encapsulates the emotional longing that the lack of physical intimacy emboldens. Slow, passionate, and moody, the song functions as both a narrative precursor and musical anthem of Dante Nico Garcia's film with the same title.
Ploning (Judy Ann Santos) is a Cuyonon native who is patiently waiting for the return of Tomas, her boyfriend who journeyed to Manila a few years back and hasn't returned yet. Surrounding Ploning is a variety of women who possess a similar emptiness: Celeste (Mylene Dizon), a city nurse who travels to Cuyo Island and finds there the missing aspect in her life; Alma (Meryll Soriano), a housewife whose only companion is the radio because her husband is working elsewhere; Nieves (Ces Quesada), a happily-married woman who is worried over her son's lofty ambitions for himself.
Most important in Ploning's life is Digo (Cedric Amit), a young boy who fancies Ploning as his surrogate mother since his real mother (Eugene Domingo) is permanently disabled. A few days before the town fiesta, Ploning's plan of journeying to Manila to look for Tomas becomes known to the people around her, causing everyone to examine the inherent value of love, pain, and waiting. Shielded from the normal worries and heartaches of most adults by his age, Digo is the most affected of Ploning's planned departure, forcing him to wrestle with those surging emotions using only his meager view on things.
Shot entirely in Cuyo Island, Ploning makes use of the picturesque vistas, the gorgeous beaches, and the vibrant town proper to great extent. Instead of merely showcasing the beauty of the island as a mere adjunct of the film or a come-on to possible tourists, the visual splendor actually complements the entire spectrum of emotions that the film manages to impart. Cinematographer Charlie Peralta was able to not only make gorgeous visuals, he also impregnated the beauty with melancholy, simple joys, sorrow, hope, and other feelings that the film so fluently speaks with.
The entire cast also effortlessly delivers the myriad of emotions that their characters require. Santos, who is more popular for acting in mainstream romantic comedies or weepy melodramas, was able to showcase restraint that the role requires. While Santos is tremendously effective as the titular character, a bigger amount of satisfaction is derived from the performances of those supporting her, more particularly Soriano who injected her character with a believable mix of simplicity and sincerity, Ronnie Lazaro who for less than five minutes was able to capture the extreme joy of being reunited with someone he has waited for almost hopelessly, Gina Pareño who portrays Tomas' mother Intang who in one scene literally explodes in fury and frustration for being betrayed by God, Spanky Manikan who injects pathos to the character of a Taiwanese fisherman who got attached to Digo for several years but is about to part with him, and Tessie Tomas who flawlessly captures the personality of someone who was bred in the city but has found serenity in the island.
The film basically hinges on Ploning's promise to wait, based predominantly on love. In one scene, Ploning placates Siloy (Lucas Agustin), the heartbroken son of Nieves, by lecturing to him about the intricacies of loving. She proclaims that pain accompanies real love, and the person who gets most hurt in a relationship is the one who loved the most. In a sense, the film approximates the folk song's view about love; that real love is essentially a prison that is blind to time, pain and suffering and that the feeling of love is entirely separate from desire. Ploning becomes the icon of this kind of love, a perpetually suffering and patient woman who stands by a promise of eternal love no matter how painful it becomes. The paradox of this view about love is that it partakes a semblance of womanly virtue, as expressed by Ploning's suffering friends.
Ploning is old-fashioned in its depiction of love yet despite that, it is adamantly satisfying since it not only pictures the emotion in its purest and uncompromising sense but also fathoms other aspects of rural life that rarely gets treatment this sincere and beautiful. It meditates on death with unflinching yet purposeful frankness. It lovingly touches on the reconciliation between a father and his once-disobedient daughter. It is this unwavering mix of subtlety and expressiveness that makes Ploning so endearing. It is unabashed in its sentimentality simply because it is as graceful and lyrical as a heartfelt love song.