ISDA (Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr.)
It is in Adolfo B. Alix, Jr's ISDA (Fable of the Fish) that I first heard the term "magical realism". Magical realism as it turns out is the combination of the magical and the actual, or in other words the fantastic and the real. I mean, come on- a woman who gives birth to a fish?
In the hands of a lesser director and a lesser actress, ISDA would have been a total mess of a film. In order to make the outrageous story work, you have to navigate somewhere between sentimental and comical, and Alix does just that. Cherry Pie Picache shines in ISDA as a woman longing for a child; she completely descends into this poor, depressed character that you really believe what you're seeing onscreen is not some actress playing a poor, depressed character but instead a real human being.
If you've read enough articles written about Alix's latest film, you'd already know that the story of ISDA stemmed from that controversial incident way, way back in the 80s that was overhyped by the media, thanks to Inday Badiday. To cater to the new generation and to update the fable, the script by Jerry Gracio (based on his Palanca-winning short story) focuses on the national fish instead of the original mudfish, while maintaining the "human" in the "human interest" element of his story.
ISDA opens in textbook Alix fashion- the absence of dialogue and the presence of ambient noise. We are then introduced to Lina and Miguel (Cherry Pie Picache and Bembol Roco), a couple migrating into the urban slums. Lina wants a child so bad, and Miguel is in support of his wife. Miguel gets a job at an ice plant, but falls quickly to illness due to the cold temperature. As a result, Lina decides to scavenge at the nearby dumpsite, and it is there that she finds a replica of a pregnant Virgin Mary.
Soon enough Lina gets pregnant, and the couple's anticipation quickly grows and culminates in the midst of a super typhoon whose name every Filipino is very familiar of. To the surprise of everyone, especially the midwife (Anita Linda), Lina gives birth to a fish. We can't really see the fish coming out of Lina, and there's so much water inside the house where Lina gave birth, so for me it was intended that way to let us decide how to interpret such hypothetical scenario.
What transpires is a heartfelt and humorous journey as the preposterous mixes with reality; Lina treats the fish as if a real human being, with killer lines such as "Anak, kain na" (child, come eat) and "Konting respeto naman sa anak mo!" (Show some respect for your child!), but what struck me in laughter was that scene where it quickly cuts into Lina and her landlady (Evelyn Vargas) who also became her friend having a picnic in front of the Quirino Grandstand, with the fish in a stroller, followed by a visit to the Manila Ocean Park. Though funny, Alix's storytelling makes us feel sympathy for Lina immediately afterwards, and we see that Lina is so dead serious about raising her child like a real human being.
Then there goes the pervasive media. Angel Aquino plays an overeager reporter who even became godmother to the fish's christening. In short, the Inday Badiday character.
ISDA tackles a lot of social issues and achieves so much in fleshing out society's nature and eccentricity to uncommon occurrences. Poverty is discussed, motherhood respected and reviled, and in the end there is that feeling of awe and gloom with yet another unexpected ending from Alix. Bembol Roco is another joy to watch in this film; in those scenes where there are no speaking lines, the camera centers on Roco's face, and boy are there multitude of emotions.