Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sanglaan (2009)

Sanglaan (Milo Sogueco, 2009)
English Title: The Pawnshop

The characters of Sanglaan (The Pawnshop) seems to exist inside a bubble created from writer-director Milo Sogueco's conceit. The family-owned pawnshop, failing because of the worldwide recession and the proliferation of more popular chains, becomes the crossroads for the various waiting lives that Sogueco lovingly observes. Olivia (Tessie Tomas), a widow of several years, prefers the predictability of managing the pawnshop her husband left her to migrating to the United States to take care of her grandchildren. Amy (Ina Feleo), Olivia's starry-eyed ward who works as the pawnshop's appraiser, is delightfully stuck in a fantasy created from childhood crushes and romance novels. David (Joem Bascon), a transient awaiting the next ship to sail out of port, is too beholden to the material demands of the times to realize Amy's silent longing. Kanor (Jess Evardone), the security guard of the pawnshop, and Esing (Flor Salanga), who runs a small catering service to contribute to her husband's wages, rent the apartment above the pawnshop and opens their humble home to David while their son, a soldier fighting rebels in Mindanao, is away.

Their stories unfold deliberately. The film's unhurried pace might prove difficult to penetrate, especially for the chronically impatient. However, clearly emphasized is the uneventful phenomenon of waiting. It is not only the audience that waits since Sogueco painstakingly paints various waiting lives who are seemingly stuck in an uncomfortable stasis caused by the routine, hopelessness, hopefulness, and expectations that blanket their lives. Sanglaan's pensive mood is sometimes broken by moments of intense emotionality, such as when a quiet birthday dinner is prematurely adjourned by news of the death of a loved one, or when Amy pleads to break free from Olivia's extended influence on her life and love, or when Olivia discovers that her pawnshop is robbed just before the auction that might save her business from completely closing. As such, these characters are first, gently nudged, before being violently pushed back to existing outside the confines of the lives they have gotten used to.

The characters share a common predicament, although their needs vary. They are all nearing their deadlines, yet they lack the income to redeem whatever they have pledged for what essentially are illusory comforts of their humdrum lives. Olivia is fast approaching obsolescence. Her business is failing. Her ward is ready to leave her for a man. Nearing the end of her twenties and being threatened with a lifetime of dreaming love without actually living it, Amy finally experiences romance. However, David, the man of Amy's affections since her schoolgirl days, is too preoccupied looking for work to realize the niceties of his experience as a transient under the wing of Kanor and Esing. Kanor and Esing, on the other hand, are simply struggling for sheer survival. The film ends without resolving their predicaments. It leaves them and the audience in a state of perpetual pondering as to when their deadlines will arrive and what other valuable item, whether it be a material thing or something in the realm of sentiment, can they pledge to extend their lives in complacent waiting.

Sogueco's portrayal of these lives in waiting is too subtle and too tender to instantly move hearts. Their stories linger first like a gentle breeze, before finally aching, but only with the nuance of a needle prick. The calmness is numbing, to the point that when Sogueco starts to prod us to care, as when he stages beautiful quiet moments (like the wordless dinner of hot noodle soup between Amy and David, where their gestures speak of a mismatch between Amy's indefatigable romance and David's impenetrable ambition, or during the evening where Olivia expresses her care and forgiveness for her ward through a hot bowl of home-made porridge), we can't wholeheartedly commit to the emotionality of what we see onscreen, not immediately at least. Left with only the sincerity of its portraits, Sanglaan takes time to ripen. And when it ripens, the film suddenly evokes a beautiful melancholy, knowing that life can be both simple and complicated, relieving and agonizing as the many transactions that happen daily in the pawnshop.

Pawnshops thrive because it peddles the fantasy of being able to escape pressing problems with the efficiency of a quick transaction in a counter. As long as one has a valuable item that he is willing to pledge, he can purchase reprieve from his worldly concerns. The key element here is time. The escape has a deadline. One has to realize that the reprieve is temporary, and acknowledge that there exists inescapable dilemmas that are now compounded by the fact that the valuable item pledged is at risk of being lost forever and transformed into a soulless ornament or luxury. The trade knows no sentiment or emotion. The items are appraised absent the memories they represents, whether they symbolize a son who left home to fight a war, or a mother who simply wishes that her son finds a loving wife, or the legacy of a husband who has died years ago. It is callous, but it only emphasizes the hold of the tangible hardships of life over the intangible elements that make us human. Sanglaan, while a film that seemingly swims in an ocean of inconsequence, reflects that painful truth.


howie said...

"like the wordless dinner of hot noodle soup between Amy and David, where their gestures speak of a mismatch between Amy's indefatigable romance and David's impenetrable ambition."

loved that scene from the movie. the smoke. the slow motion. ina feleo's dreamy smile. joem bascon's aloofness. ganda.

Oggs Cruz said...

I agree. If there's one image in the film that I will remember, it is that lovely scene.

gibbs cadiz said...

loved that scene, too. i call it sanglaan's wong kar wai moment--with all due respect. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks for dropping by Gibbs. It seems like a homage to Wong's In The Mood for Love, with the smoke, the gestures, the noodles, even the repeated music.

Anonymous said...

that particular scene was more of an infringement than a homage.. not impressed with the film

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you for your thoughts, anonymous.

Anonymous said...

that scene was more like Hsien's THREE TIMES where the lead girl also shares a noodle scene with the boy (albeit outdoors in a busy street), feleo also bears striking gestural and facial similarities with lead SHU QI.

funny coz i thought of feleo when I first saw that film.

Now here she is doing "that" role serindipitously

Anonymous said...

I like the movie even though it is a bit slow. The acting is more natural than those made by big studios where everyone nearly shout with accents that seem to come out of nowhere. Movies like this have a better chance outside the Philippines where the audience for indies is bigger.