HARI NG TONDO (Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 2014)
Official Entry, Director's Showcase category, Cinemalaya X
Too long has filmmaker Carlos Siguion-Reyna been on break from making feature films, his last one being Azucena back in 2000. HARI NG TONDO, his current entry for Cinemalaya X under the Directors' Showcase section is a more than welcome comeback for him.
The film begins with the end of an empire. Ricardo Villena (Robert Arevalo) is facing imminent bankruptcy as his son-in-law Dan (Eric Quizon) lectures him about his bad business decisions. To add to their family's baggage, his granddaughter Anna (Cris Villonco) opts not to push through with her wedding to a wealthy bachelor, much to the dismay of the parents (Quizon and Ali Sotto). Also, his grandson Ricky (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) from his other son (played by Audie Gemora) reveals that he is not graduating this semester with his Economics degree. So what to do indeed with all these woes?
The Villena Patriarch makes a hasty but informed move: to return to Tondo, where his roots once were, and to personally manage an apartment complex dubbed "Alapaap" (clouds), to the surprise of everyone, including his caretaker (played by Rez Cortez).
Being victims of their parents' domineering ways, Anna and Ricky leave home and join their grandpa in Tondo. There, they meet new friends, learn things which may seem foreign for children of their privileged upbringing, like what "pagpag" is (no, not the thing you do after attending a funeral) and most importantly, they discover how to become better versions of themselves through the guidance of their grandfather's wisdom.
HARI NG TONDO is peppered with humor, which finds a culture clash when the wealthy is suddenly relocated into the slums, like when your your bathroom looked like someone just got murdered there.
Veering away from the visual and narrative cliches that have pervaded independent cinema's depiction of Tondo these past couple of years (i.e. Tondo as dark, dank, decrepit, and beyond salvation), HARI NG TONDO balances its treatment of Tondo between nostalgia and optimism. Yet there is popular opinion that Siguion-Reyna's depiction of Tondo is absolute fantasy.
I agree that HARI NG TONDO may have been too subtle for its own good, even resorting to soap operatic drama in the end. Some scenes seem torn out of a mainstream movie complete with a moral lesson in the end, which begs the question on where has the Carlos Siguion-Reyna of HIHINTAYIN KITA SA LANGIT and LIGAYA ANG ITAWAG MO SA AKIN fame gone.
Rez Cortez, Ali Sotto, Audie Gemora, and Eric Quizon play stock characters that propel the story into predictable territory. The redeeming factor would only come in when Robert Arevalo would fall to his knees upon seeing the true state of Tondo.
Yes, HARI NG TONDO is still entertaining despite its shortcomings. Aiza Seguerra who plays an aspiring musician lends a lively aura to the film. Robert Arevalo is compelling as always.
In the end, HARI NG TONDO really wants us to realize a singular truth, as per Ricardo Villena's realizations: that Tondo would be so much different from its current state had all previous Tondo residents who moved up in the world returned to develop the place. Preachy as it may be, the film makes a grand statement which may one day solve our fixation with poverty porn.