AN KUBO SA KAWAYANAN (Alvin Yapan, 2015)
*Official selection, 2015 World Premieres Film Festival, Filipino New Cinema section
Alvin Yapan has explored the supernatural with "Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe" (The Rapture of Fe), the subliminal with "Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa" (Dance of Two Left Feet), the marriage of the mythical and the religious with "Debosyon" (Devotion) and the psychological with "Anino ng Kahapon" (Shadows of the Past). His latest film "An Kubo Sa Kawayanan" (The House in the Bamboo Grove), surprisingly veers away from his usual exploration of folklore and literature, as its story lives within the confines of the mundane, the ordinary, and the calming silence.
Perhaps "Kubo" is the antithesis to Yapan's film canon- a meditation on the simplicity of things, stripped away of all of the modern world's noise. In here, we find Michelle (Mercedes Cabral), an embroiderer living alone in a nipa hut tucked deep in the woods. She finds joy and comfort in the simplicity and familiarity of things. A small radio which needs to be wound up in order to play brings color to her silence. A beetle tied to a string becomes an instant toy. Lunch meant a can of sardines.
People constantly persuaded Michelle to leave her home because there is nothing for her there, they say. But Michelle is adamant on staying, for reasons other people will never seem to fathom.
The house has a language that only she can understand, according to Michelle. She speaks of the house through voice overs as if it is a person, capable of feeling envy, or becoming possessive, or playing games with her. In more ways than one, the film hints that a supernatural force is in play, as if the house could be the spirit of a lover, or an ex-lover, or perhaps those of her parents'. Yet "Kubo" is a literal representation of all elements present onscreen. A stone represents a stone, says Yapan during the film's gala premiere. Everything is what they are. Hence, the film ought to be taken as it is.
It is quite possible that the film was such designed to mislead viewers for a second into thinking "Kubo" is supernatural, or at least metaphorical. This is to be expected, since Yapan favors metaphors in his films.
Also possible that while the film represents things in their intended capacity, there still are incidental visual metaphors, like how the organism growing underground may be a representation of change, of metamorphosis, or how the children dancing the native Tinikling dance echoes the beauty and innocence of the bucolic surroundings.
I'd like to add here one comment I heard during the open forum during the film's gala premiere. The person in the audience said that perhaps, some things in the world are better left untouched, or undeveloped. This is the whole film, in one sentence.
Kubo" is not the strongest of Yapan's films ("Fe" remains my personal favorite) yet we have to judge a film by its merits in relation to its purpose, and in the purpose of creating a reflection on nature and smaller pieces of the universe that often go unnoticed, Yapan succeeds, with great help from a stunning cinematography by Ronald Rebutica, vivid sound by Corinne de San Jose, and masterful editing by Benjamin Tolentino (who also did "Dagitab," "Transit" and "That Thing Called Tadhana").