Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Anacbanua (2009)

Anacbanua (Christopher Gozum, 2009)
English Title: Child of the Sun

Language functions primarily as a tool for communication. Thus, when roads and bridges were built to connect provinces, when ships and ports were constructed to connect islands, and when planes and airports were invented to connect continents, communication has turned into a worldwide commodity to the extent that the abundance of languages and dialects has turned into a hindrance to prosperity in this severely connected age. Several languages and dialects that have been rendered superfluous by this inevitable shift in perspective are forced to extinction. The native dialect of the province of Pangasinan, is one of the victims of this widespread epidemic. The dialect's native speakers, who naturally prioritize economic survival to cultural identity, homogenize with the rest of the country as a result of governmental policy in education, migration, assimilation and a general lack of interest by their younger generation.

However, language is not a mere tool. It emphasizes a cultural soul, a facet of an intertwined populace that connects them to the land, their history, their livelihood and themselves. The deliberate extinction of Pangalatok, a dialect that has evolved a vast literature throughout the centuries of its existence, is especially painful because along with it disappears a legacy, the thread that attaches a person with a proud people but has eventually been rendered into a mere facade, a regional label, a curiosity in the midst of a language that encroaches on virtually everything in the name of globalization.

Christopher Gozum's Anacbanua (Child of the Sun), advertised as the first full-length feature in Pangasinense dialect, does more than make use of the language to communicate dialogue in the service of a universal narrative. By making use of poems in Pangalatok, the film explores a cultural soul struggling with the demands of modernity, national integrity, and globalization. The film literally levitates from one setting to another, transporting the a man (Lowell Conales), a poet who returns from Saudi Arabia to Pangasinan to rediscover his roots, to different places in Pangasinan. Yet more than a mere travelogue of the vibrant locales and anthropological wonders of the province, the film essays a pervading melancholy attributable to the threatening loss. The breadth of emotions fluently evoked by Gozum in his mostly motionless tableaus is breathtaking, and the fact that there's economy to his filmmaking, making use of the essentials of cinema to a constant minimum (his aesthetics is deliberate and controlled; the music he uses is hypnotic; his storytelling is astoundingly astute, making use of seemingly distant although ravishingly beautiful sequences to tell a concrete message; his mix of documentary realism, aesthetic surrealism, purpose and advocacy is effective), stretches the possibilities of what the moving image can do.

Gozum, like his film's poet, struggles with the opposing needs of making himself financially viable (by taking a contractual job as a videographer in Saudi Arabia) and of creating pertinent culture (by making films that dictate this internal struggle). His short film Surreal Random MMS para kay ed Ina, Agui tan Kaamong ya Makaiiliw ed Sika: Gurgurlis ed Banua (Surreal Random MMS for a Mother, a Sister and a Wife Who Longs for You: Landscapes with Figures, 2008) makes use of a shocking images of a human eye being punctured with interspersed images of a foreign land captured from a cellular phone that were sent by the director to his loved ones in the Philippines to tell more of the numbing disconnect of a displaced Filipino than the landscapes he so evocatively captured using his meager resources. It is this duality in Gozum's artistic personality that makes his films unbelievably fascinating. Anacbanua, as it is, is a rousing statement on a dying language. With Gozum at its helm, the film becomes a different thing altogether. From the possibility of being an inert advocacy film, Anacbanua blossoms into a grandiose canvass that is painted with something as gargantuan as the loss of an entire cultural heritage to something as intimate and personal as the multi-layered confusion that is consuming him as an artist (while he is from Pangasinan, he is also a Filipino, a Filipino who is working in Saudi Arabia; these tiers of conflicting identities make his efforts more taxing and his film more resonant).

It really is a powerful film. Emotions whirlwind as Pangasinense poetry is recited granting unreserved depth to the different landscapes, the obscure livelihoods, the unraveled historical, cultural, and religious implications that are depicted with unnerving aesthetic assuredness. As the camera lingers extensively on the monochrome dioramas of supposed rituals of rebirth set in different locations, we are eventually drawn into the imagery, feeling the flowing waters of the Agno river wash away the dregs of cultural imperialism, smelling the refreshingly pungent aroma of fish fermenting to perfection, relaxing to the warmth of bricks baking in an ancient kiln, and numbing to the unbearable cries of pain of cattle being slaughtered mercilessly. This immersive experience punctures the wall that separates the recited poetry and the fascinating visuals, forcing the viewer to not only understand the recited words through their intended and literal meanings (as facilitated by the English subtitles), but also to regard these words as significant and indispensable components of a culture. Remove the poetry from the film, and the haunting imagery will inevitably lose its soul, beautiful to look at but flat and meaningless. Remove the language from the province, and an entire people, an entire culture will lose its identity, surviving as inutile labels of a neglected ancestry.


svillafania said...

Hi, thanks for the review of Anacbanua ;-p

Just want to comment on the word "Pangalatok" though. Pangasinan is the name of the province and language. Pangasinense to refer to the people or simply "Pangasinan" in vernacular.

Pangalatok is, in fact, derogatory to most of us, Pangasinenses.

Regards ;-p

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you Sonny,

That's a very embarrassing error on my part and please allow me to correct myself.

More power to your cause!


the_gay_archer said...

agree with sonny.

Unknown said...

Thanks guys. It's wonderful to learn of a film that captures the concerns of many lovers of the old Pangasinan culture: it's impending loss due to language nationalization and globalization. We live in Southern California, and we long for the old Pangasinan culture. Please let us know how we can obtain a DVD of this film.
Ross Papilla

Epoy Deyto said...

Mr. Gozum told me via chat that he's been thinking of releasing this on dvd on probably late this year or early 2011. can't wait for the release