*Official entry, 2016 World Premieres Film Festival, Main Competition

"Daughters of the Three Tailed Banner" is the first of filmmaker Teng Mangansakan's two-part tale of the Bangsamoro struggle. Albeit brief and could use more exploration of its characters, the film is not short on symbolic elements, embedded within the arcs of its rich storytelling. 

It is important to note that the film is told entirely from the perspective of women, and while Mangansakan navigates femininity in modern age, he also tells it in the paradigm of a land deeply steeped in tradition, where women are not always free to make their own life choices.

Philippine society has always been patriarchal, and the family of Tonina (Haidie Singkad) knows this very well. After the death of her brother, Tonina's family is suddenly without a male member, and this presents a great deal of pressure for her and her sister to find suitable husbands. At first, Tonina seems to be a victim of rules and tradition, but we later see her as the "bearer" of solution to her family's predicament.

In a separate arc, Aida (Fe GingGing Hyde) works tirelessly as a hotel maid. At first, her character feels detached from the story's theme of change, but it's all part of the film's design. We get fragments of Aida's life from the phone calls she keeps getting, supposedly a family member who is in need of money. However, the film has another layer which connects Aida from Tonina and the rest of the characters: aspiration. 

Aida meets Sabina (Sue Prado), a mysterious hotel guest nursing a heavy burden. In a twist of fate, Aida and Sabina share a brief moment where each woman understands the other. Sabina is clearly the more battle weary of the two, or is she? Can people's emotional baggage really be measured on the outside? On who cries the most? As if to parallel with the Moro struggle, most people only know very little about the issues, about Mindanao, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (including this writer). But Mangansakan is telling us to look closer, to peel the layers of prejudice and misinformation. 

Even the supporting characters (which could be argued, since everyone plays a pivotal role rather than being mere placeholders) have struggles of their own: Nora (Maria Victoria Beltran) comes home to a family she no longer recognizes, and still resents her; the family's mentally-challenged member Sophia (Mayka Lintongan), despite her condition seems to know each of her relatives' true intentions, and; Kadiguia (Evelyn Vargas-Knaebel), being the family's matriarch battles not only tradition, but time and her own mortality. 

Even the film editing gives a rush to the viewer, because scenes are cut when the story seems to reveal crucial information, saving the payoff for later in each instance. 

With such level of artistry and passion for his material, Mangansakan draws us closer to a subject that not a lot of people might be interested in, but we ought to. Like the recurring parallel themes of death and rebirth in the film, the cinema of Mindanao should be given the attention it deserves, especially with the kind of storytelling that allows viewers to make their own decisions.



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