MGA ANINO NG KAHAPON (Alvin Yapan, 2013)
I haven't seen many films by Agot Isidro, but if there is that movie which will probably define her acting career, this would be it.
MGA ANINO NG KAHAPON (Shadows of the Past) is the new film by filmmaking tandem Alvin Yapan and Alemberg Ang, and for Yapan who again writes and directs, this is a departure from his previous works that bordered on poetry and the supernatural. Here, Yapan mounts a domestic drama that at once plays out like a suspense movie, then a partial horror film, then a full blown character-driven study of the human mind and family relations.
Irene (Agot Isidro) experiences high anxiety that there may be evil men connected with their family's past lurking around their house. She imposes this fear among the other members of her family, including her young son Brian (Carl Acosta), her mother-in-law Flor (Upeng Galang Fernandez), and brother-in-law, Carlo (Carlo Cruz). She also informs her husband Ed (TJ Trinidad) of such concerns via video chat, as Ed is abroad in Dubai working as a nurse.
The threat rose from the physical to the spiritual. A shaman was brought to their home to cleanse it of evil spirits.
But soon enough, Yapan spills the beans that Irene's problem is really psychological. The film, which feels tiring at first quickly lifts off as soon as Ed goes immediately home from Dubai and surprises Irene. From hereon, Agot Isidro begins a gripping turn as a woman losing grasp of reality, and in this particular scene, the way she played Irene all aghast in front of her husband commands our undivided attention.
Although MGA ANINO NG KAHAPON is overtly an advocacy film about schizophrenia, it manages to depict this mental illness in a poignant, oftentimes funny and endearing manner. Everytime Agot would talk to her imaginary friends is an awaited moment.
The film often shifts into a preachy tone, perhaps even condescending, like a PSA (Public Service Announcement) yet for every of the film's letdowns is another Agot Isidro moment that makes us forget the things we hate about the storytelling.
We see the struggle of a woman with her sanity falling apart, and how her family deals with her condition. Agot churns out a very brave performance filled with gravitas and ingenuity. At times I would remember Gwyneth Paltrow in SYLVIA, and even Ashley Judd in BUG, but Agot Isidro is still an actress in her own league. The screen lights up even when she doesn't utter any dialogue.
There are two scenes in the film where Irene looks at herself in the mirror, and for me it was subtly haunting. What is she thinking? What is she looking at? What is she searching for? Even in a brief scenario, we ponder upon Irene's silence.
For me, the film's strongest moment is when Irene hid under the bed, and Ed came to her rescue, hugging her, as tears rolled down her face. In that scene, time stood still.
For a film that mostly revolved around one small house, MGA ANINO NG KAHAPON is pretty amazing, fueled by Agot Isidro's inspired portrayl of a schizophrenic, and TJ Trinidad who equally renders a solid performance as a husband trying to understand what seems to be beyond understanding. It also gets us one step closer into understanding schizophrenia, reminding us that love is still powerful over any insurmountable illness. That final scene will break your heart.