Limbunan (Gutierrez Mangansakan II, 2010)
English Title: Bridal Quarter
Gutierrez Mangansakan II's Limbunan (Bridal Quarter) happens during the entire month where Ayesah (Jea Lyca Cinco), betrothed to a man she has never met, is confined within her bridal chambers, as Maguindanaoan tradition would dictate. The film's languorous pacing alludes to the glacial and oftentimes torturous passage of time, where Ayesah, inevitably volunteered to sacrifice individual pleasures as a matter of culture, struggles emotionally in the process. The bridal chamber, as opposed to the open spaces outside as seen from the point of view of Ayesah’s curious little sister (Jamie Inte), is a curtailing setting. The lone window that gives Ayesah a partial glimpse of the outside world opens to reveal the vastness of unknowable possibilities torn by the conveniences of tradition.
It is a very quiet film. Talk, although very frequent, is deliberate. Silence is an enforced practice, especially among women. Speech, like almost everything in the film, is treated with ceremonial reverence. If and when these women, by virtue of their humanity, break the veil of quietude and propriety, it is both scandalous and refreshing, as when the silence of the night is punctured by child’s play or brash talk of sex and loveless marriages invade the sanctity of the bridal chamber. The film takes its time, patiently breezing through what could be torturous days of Ayesah waiting for either fate to take its course or the courage to change her fate. The dramatic moments that sparsely accentuate the waiting only enunciate the emotional imprisonment.
Mangansakan makes it clear that while Ayesah is at the center of the narrative, she is not the only woman that was restricted or silenced by tradition. Her aunt (Tetchie Agbayani), tasked to take care of Ayesah as she is prepared to be a bride, has her very own anecdote of sacrifice in the name of family and tradition. Limbunan is a collage of women silenced, Ayesah, her aunt, her mother who has to share her husband with a Christian woman, her little sister whose own youth combats her curiosity, by traditions defined by patriarchal standards. Ayesah confides to her aunt about the possibility of escape, of marrying a Christian trader; her aunt frankly distinguishes marriage opportunities by gender, emphasizing the sad but undeniable reality that men and women are not equal in the eyes of their culture.
In a sense, Mangansakan tells the story of the land and its people via the pains of the women. The film’s beautiful final shot, where Ayesah, along with all the women in the family, accompany her from the chamber to the wedding, is not so much an ambiguous end to a story that pits the self with society as it is portrait of women, relaxed, resigned yet resilient in the midst of minimizing their selves in the context of society. The ending triumphs precisely because it is a gentle portrait of quiet acceptance, unfazed by any inner turmoil.
Despite touching these themes of repression and denial of self-actualization via the requirements of cultural identity and for all the seeming obsolescence of these restrictive traditions in a present age where democracy is preferred, freedoms are valued and gender equality is emphasized, Mangansakan admirably takes a non-judgmental stance. In fact, he grants the ritual and all the reasons and rationalities for its continued existence due respect and reverence. Moreover, he meticulously recreates a setting where cultural details, from the patterns in the cloths to the singing duels prior to the wedding proper, are preserved. Limbunan, in all its stylized storytelling and its undeniable splendor, is most importantly, a very personal ode to his often misunderstood and misrepresented cultural roots.
(Cross-published on Twitch.)