PAGLIPAY (Zig Dulay, 2016)

* English title: "Crossing"

* Official entry, 1st ToFarm Film Festival 2016

"Paglipay" (Crossing) is a rarity in Philippine cinema. Although a love story, the film firmly plants its roots on traditional values, and the clash between tradition and modern culture is both humorous and heartbreaking. The decision to cast real-life Aetas Garry Cabalic and Joan Dela Cruz validates the film's intentions for authenticity.

In "Paglipay," a young Aeta named Atan (Cabalic) is arranged to be married to fellow Aeta Ani (Dela Cruz). Despite belonging in the same tribe, they may not necessarily "love" one another. Yet before the marriage can proceed, Atan is required to pay a "bandi," or dowry to Ani's parents. As such, Atan peddles root crops to the lowlands and plows fields to earn money.

Atan's undisturbed world is shaken with the arrival of Rain (Anna Luna), a city girl pursuing her thesis about the inter-marriages among curly-haired and straight-haired people. As Atan serves as tour guide to Rain and classmate Cai (Marinella Sevidal), he finds he is drawn closer and closer to Rain's beauty and suffering. Rain, in return seems to find comfort in Atan. All the while, the vastness of the mountains stands as silent witness to yet another force of nature — love. Or is it just familiarity, masquerading as a deeper emotion between two souls at a crossroads?

The title of the film could not be more precise. For the film's entirety, Atan is seen crossing great, open distances between the town and their remote community, either to peddle goods or to chase after a promising future. But Atan is not only crossing physical borders, but also culture, race and belief. Although many interracial marriages exist, Atan is under oath with Ani's family. Oath in "Paglipay" is not only a recurring theme but a silent character altogether.

The film also highlights the plight of women Aetas, and like in many tribal communities where patriarchy exists, women have limited choices. Atan may less likely become a lawyer, an engineer or a doctor, but Ani's fate is more depressing, having no say on who she wants to marry.

Like his previous films "M. Mother's Maiden Name" and "Bambanti" (Scarecrow), writer-director Zig Dulay unveils his story slowly, letting us feel the calmness of the river foreboding a lurking danger, or the hardness of the soil echoing the struggles of the Aetas. All the while, we get to know the characters like our own kinfolk. 

The film knows how to toy with audiences' penchant for romantic dramas, and while Atan and Rain's romantic charades are aplenty, Dulay never loses sight of his narrative. The "romance" serves as an irony for the destruction of nature occurring in the backdrop, again another by-product of modern civilization. This begs the question whether life stripped down to the basic necessities would be more enjoyable. Sure, there will be no internet, fast foods, or television, but in their place rests solitude, peace and freedom from pollution.

Like Rain's arrival, "Paglipay" also tackles invasion of space, or how modernity invades tradition, the same way that corporations destroy the mountains for profit, displacing its native inhabitants.  The film not only advocates farming but also respect for both nature and tradition. Aetas are among the earliest settlers in the Philippines, but due to the changing times, many have been displaced, and even ostracized. And when you see a film as beautifully told as "Paglipay" (complemented by cinematographer Albert Banzon's stunning eye for detail), where the Aetas are depicted so lovingly, you cannot help but wonder what part you did and did not do that resulted to society's current condition.  



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