Thursday, May 29, 2008

Caregiver (2008)

Caregiver (Chito Roño, 2008)

In an early scene in Chito Roño's Caregiver, we see Sarah (Sharon Cuneta) peek into the bathroom where her mother (Marita Zobel) is giving her Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother (Anita Linda) a bath. The mother sees Sarah peeking and gives her a warm comforting look. Sarah's younger sister (Mickey Ferriols) then enters the bathroom to help dry and dress up their grandmother. Sarah, out of familial sensitivity, closes the door, granting her grandmother the privacy any human being deserves. It's a lovely scene, made even more resounding with gestures that summarize exactly why the Philippines has ended up as the world's foremost supplier of domestic helpers, nannies, nurses, and caregivers. The Philippines is a nation of caregivers: of daughters and granddaughters who remain compassionate to those senior to them; of grandmothers and mothers who respond with genuine attention to their sons or daughters; of siblings taking care of siblings; of wives keeping up with their husbands.

Caregiver begins in the Philippines, where Sarah, a schoolteacher who spends her nights studying the intricacies of caregiving, gets ready to leave for London, where her husband Teddy (John Estrada) works as a nurse's aide. While most of the film happens in London where we see Sarah go through the joys and pains of a caregiver, suffer through a slowly deteriorating marriage with her husband who is wallowing in self-pity, win the respect of a wealthy yet extremely moody retiree Mr. Morgan (Saul Reichlin), and take care of a misdirected youth (Makisig Morales) she first encountered shoplifting in a grocery, it is during the moments in the Philippines that are most poignant.

Director Roño and scriptwriter Chris Martinez paint a very clear portrait as to what Sarah is willing to sacrifice for her job as a caregiver in a nursing home in London. Most moving of the sacrifices Sarah is willing to take is the possibility of leaving her lone son (John Manalo) without any parents. The film takes utmost pains to detail the waning relationship between mother and son, with the latter stoic and rebellion amid the threat of being left alone by his mother, and the former exercising her maternal instincts even up to her final days in the Philippines. Their reconciliation is handled deftly, with the two of them expressing their emotions in the middle of a playground where homeless orphaned kids sleep (a visual expression of how they are still lucky despite their circumstances). Sarah then shares her son's bottle of beer, a subtle expression that they both share the same fears, and it is thus pointless for them to separate with hardened and hurt hearts.

Sarah's experience in London is standard melodrama, with suffering wife overcoming the odds to come out strongest and admirable in the end. Touched deftly are the repercussions of displacement. In fact, the most significant character in the film's London scenes is Sarah's husband who has deteriorated into a pathetic alcoholic mess, more so because his masculinity is greatly disadvantaged by the fact that Sarah was able to find success when he cannot do so. Caregiver brings into the forefront the humiliation, the pride-swallowing, the ludicrousness of this forced migration due to the laws of economics; where successful professionals (doctors, nurses, teachers, etc.) are forced to downgrade their professions because of the indubitable economic gap between nations. The film expresses that caste systems exist not only within specific cultures but also in the family of nations, where citizens of third world economies are delegated lower status notwithstanding skill, expertise, or intellect.

But since Caregiver dwells more on human stories rather than lopsided world politics (although there's one scene where the ludicrousness of such politics is exemplified, where a Filipino ex-doctor (Jhong Hilario) is sacked from the hospital where he's working as a nurse for disobeying his superior although that act of disobedience saved a human life), its agenda is much more simpler: to venerate the Filipino overseas worker. It's an endeavor that has been done and redone in Philippine cinema ('Merika (Gil Portes, 1984), The Flor Contemplacion Story (Joel Lamangan, 1995), Milan (Olivia Lamasan, 2004), among others), with different levels of success. What Caregiver accomplishes is something deeper than trite veneration. That veneration is in fact an assertion of a mutated hierarchy of values inflicted by an age of financial necessity in a country that has been relying on exporting professionals to other nations to work for better pay but with menial tasks.

When in the end, Sarah chooses to stay put with her work in London, presumably following the lessons she learned from Mr. Morgan, it feels like Sarah has championed her individuality (or for feminists, her ability to make a decision on her own), besting the pathetic whims of her husband, and presumably realizing her dreams of financial freedom. In the larger arena of things however, her decision is one that champions complacency, one that can be regarded as a tacit acceptance of her role in the world no matter how unjustly such role is rendered, one that confirms such mutated hierarchy of values and in fact celebrates it as a virtue. What Caregiver affirms is that the Philippines has a sorry place in this world of ours, and all we can do about it is accept it and cry (the last action an inevitable result of Roño and Martinez's effective machinations).


Noel Vera said...

Happy to see Rono do good work again. Because when he's got a good script, he knows to run with it.

Anonymous said...

How is it compared to 'Merika? I saw the trailer on YouTube, and it looks quite similar.


Oggs Cruz said...

Hi RSE, I can't comment on that because i haven't seen 'Merika in its entirety.

Anonymous said...

would love to know your opinion on sharon cuneta's take on the role. thanks.


Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Roni,

I thought Sharon was very good here, with a lot of restraint and personality. Acting is pretty good overall. Even the Caucasian actors were good. Heck, even John Estrada came out terrific, that I wished his role wasn't merely designed to put Sarah on a pedestal.

Anonymous said...

typical talaga sa mga pinoy films na madevelop ang istorya thru dialogue noh? yun lang ang problema ko sa Caregiver pero ok na rin sya. it's better than Ploning.

-ed saludes

Anonymous said...

Hi. Sorry for this OT post.

There's this screening of short films in Robinsons Galleria by a writers group. I was wondering if you do reviews of short films because I'm thinking of requiring my class and I often refer to this blog for films that are worth watching.

- Joan

Anonymous said...

hello boss, nice site u have here.
are you 30 yet?
try this?

Anonymous said...

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi anonymous,

I'm just 25. I actually tried out last year. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it. It's very difficult to be published in a print publication, and they're requiring that. In any case, there's no harm in trying again right?

Anonymous said...

yeah, please try again.
all the best!

Anonymous said...

hi this is chris martinez. May i post your review on my multiply site. Been collecting reviews of Caregiver (for documentation and posterity na rin). Try to visit my site. It's actually for our Cinemalaya entry "100" this July. I have been keeping reviews of Caregiver on the side. I also appreciate your first paragraph. Yours is the only review that pinpointed that scene which is so so so dear to me. Thanks again!

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for reading through this entry. Feel free to make use of my review in any way you want, and good luck with 100.

Anonymous said...

I also found the film effective, nice to know this film will be shown in Paris together with another Roño film- Dekada 70. About time he shows to a foreign audience what he's got...

However, is it just me or what but I found Sharon's acting irritating at times... her eyes are effective but her lips seemed out of place, as if making pa-cute in her TV program.

HarryTuttle said...

Yes this will be screened at Paris Cinéma in two weeks. Any other recommendations from this program of 40 films?

Anonymous said...

Hey,Harry, all the films included in the Panorama are all good, worth the time, nice glimpses of lives in these islands found in Asia yet somehow curiously more American/European in stance/sensibilities than most of the films produced in this region. (A very un-Asian sensibilty you will see in "Bridal Shower", "Temptation Island",etc. Other Asians attempt to this type but somehow they come out more natural in Filipino films)) I think it's auspicious that Filipino films not about squatters are seen abroad

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Harry,

I agree with the above anonymous poster's suggestion, almost everything is worth watching there.

If you're looking for contemplative cinema though, you might get a bit disappointed with most of the offerings since Philippine cinema has a tendency to be very talky, meaning the plot is usually carried out through dialogue. Some contemplative or semi-contemplative movies in the line-up are:

1) The Teacher (Brillante Mendoza) - his best work, in my opinion (although I haven't seen Pantasya (Fantasy), Tirador (Slingshot), or Serbis (Service).

2) Foster Child (Brillante Mendoza) - a lazy directorial effort but its best moments are terrific.

3) Kadin (Adolfo Alix) - supposedly inspired by Lav Diaz. It's beautiful if not a tad lightweight.

4) Rolyo (Alvin Yapan) - it's a short film that has a lot to say. It's worth a look.

5) The Bet Collector (Jeffrey Jeturian) - This one's really good, about the titular bet collector and her struggles with living and her profession.

6) The Criminal of Barrio Conception (Lav Diaz) - I haven't seen this but it's Diaz's first film.

7) A Short Film about Indio Nacional (Raya Martin) - Again, this is extremely beautiful and maps out Martin's direction as a filmmaker: uncompromising, thoughtful, funny.

8) Todo Todo Teros (John Torres) - Found footage, Low-fi Digital Footage, Voice-over, a Clever and current concept mixed together to come up with a masterpiece.

9) The Woven Stories of the Other (Sherad Anthony Sanchez) - This one's highly recommended, about the three sides in a war: the communists, the government, and the natives that are slowly being depleted.

Of course, you should at least see one film per great Filipino director:

1) Temptation Island (Joey Gosiengfiao) - While I believe Gosiengfiao's greatest moment is Bedspacers, this one pretty much sums up why he's revered in the country. A hilarious, irreverent romp that outwits, outshocks John Waters anytime.

2) Will Your Heart Beat Faster? (Mike de Leon) - I would've preferred that they showcase Kisapmata instead of this, but this one's pretty good. Funny and outrageous.

3) Gagamboy (Erik Matti) - Again, Matti's best work as of now is Pa-Siyam but this one's a riot. It mostly works because of Vhong Navarro's charismatic turn as a Spider-man clone.

4) Himala (Ishmael Bernal) - Watch this for Nora Aunor's acting and Bernal's immaculate direction.

5) You Are Weighed and Found Wanting (Lino Brocka) - Last time I saw this was half a decade ago. I would've preferred Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag or Insiang.

6) The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (Auraeus Solito) - Much has been said about this, and they're pretty much accurate. Touching portrait of a pre-teen homosexual who falls in love with a cop.

7) Boatman (Tikoy Aguiluz) - Enticing, Depressing, and Realistic portrait of a boy who is spirited from the province to work as a live sex performer in Manila.

That pretty much sums up everything, Harry. I hope you enjoy my nation's cinema. What's fascinating about the film festival is that it also showcases the films that the ordinary Filipino moviegoer watches, so in that sense, you get to see what our masses like. It also showcases more cerebral fare, which mirrors truly the Filipino soul, absent the need for escapism. Enjoy!

Oggs Cruz said...

Endo (Jade Castro) too. Don't forget that one!

HarryTuttle said...

Thanks a lot. This detailed list will be very helpful to make my schedule. I'll try to watch as much as I can.

kampanaryo_spy said...

the film's good. i just wonder what happened to the red shawl/stole anita linda gave sharon cuneta. had sharon worn it as she walked on london's snowy landscape, it would have provided sharp contrast besides achieving its literal and figurative purpose in sharon's life.

also, it bothered me that sharon's character was supposed to be a good english teacher and yet john had to explain to her what hooligan meant.

i'm nitpicking again. sorry.

HarryTuttle said...

I thought Insiang was originally announced on their website... they must have made a last-minute correction. :(