Basal Banar (Auraeus Solito, 2002)
English Title: Sacred Ritual of Truth
The most unique of sunsets opens Auraeus Solito’s Basal Banar (Sacred Ritual of Truth). The distant coast and the clouds are but shadows to the mysterious red, blue, and white of the darkening sky. There can never be a more appropriate introduction. In a single visual, Solito introduces Palawan as this land that is mysterious, grandiose, and sadly, much burdened by problems any paradise may expect but should never deserve. From that otherworldly view of Palawan from the sea and through rivers and thick jungles, the film elegantly takes its viewers into the heart of the land, its people.
Solito has the advantage of capturing Palawan not from the vantage point of an absolute stranger but of a returning son. Instead of depicting Palawan’s people with the coldness and distance of an uninvolved documentarian, he positions himself as equally affected, giving the documentary a sense of reverence when depicting the more intimate details of the island’s culture and urgency when forwarding an advocacy.
Solito, schooled in Manila, prides himself of his Palaw’an heritage, a heritage that would guide him through several of his narrative features, all of which would give ample light to the unknown and marginalized, from the gay youths of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005) and Boy (2009) to the rare geniuses of Pisay (Philippine Science, 2007). It is only with Busong (Palawan Fate, 2011) that Solito was able to give his beloved Palawan undivided attention. In the film, he drapes his adulation with high definition images of a timeless paradise that curiously mingles with the very real and the infinitely current, creating something of a beautiful anachronism that is a more than apt summary of the situation in Palawan.
Basal Banar is an essential precursor and companion piece to Busong. Where Busong is dreamlike and artistic in its imagery, Basal Banar is organic and unrehearsed. Its aesthetics is borrowed directly from nature and the people that partake of nature.
Even the music and the sound design are essential facets of what is seen. The songs sung by the natives are little stories by themselves, tackling everything from sacred rituals to mundane domestic dilemmas. There are also songs heard from the radio, transmitted straight from Malaysia, the closest neighbor to the island. The songs heard in the film are essential to the story it tells, efficiently painting the island’s demographic as not comprised solely of the natives who have resided first in the island but also the newcomers. Solito, by encompassing the entire wealth of humanity that resides in Palawan, enlarges the scope of the struggle, deepens the pains caused by modernization and the inequity of the concept of property, a concept that is incongruous to the concept of community that has kept peace in the island, a concept that has displaced an entire people from a land they and their ancestors have considered home for centuries.
The documentary climaxes with a journey by Solito and other men and women to plot the ancestral domain that is supposedly protected by law. Hundreds of kilometers and several hours of arduous travel are reduced to several key minutes through time lapse. The effect is tremendous. It is in equal portions a campaign that would supposedly end the injustices caused by government-sponsored land-grabbing and a celebration of unity among people of various ethnic groups, educational attainments, professions, and personal histories. Basal Banar, in turn, becomes that rare documentary that forgoes dwelling in the evils humanity can be capable of by concluding in a note of triumphant hope.