Once upon a time in rural Philippines

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star
Once upon a time in rural Philippines

From left: John Arcilla, Arnold Reyes and Manuel Acquino in a scene from the movie. Brilliant output from a young filmmaker

Film review: Birdshot

MANILA, Philippines - Mikhail Red’s Birdshot is revealing in many ways.

This is one young filmmaker who allows his audiences to explore new labyrinths in filmmaking and make something refreshing out of old subjects.

To be sure, his approach is not typical of today’s young filmmakers. He is inclined to tell a story by challenging the imagination of his viewers.

Indeed, there is no clue as to how the film would end. You get exposed to frames of countryside images — most of them starkly without music. Teresa Barrozo’s music is spare and really effective. It doesn’t romanticize the rural scenes. Instead, you get natural ebb and flow from the surrounding: Bird sounds from the forest, the onrush of water from the river and beautiful sunrise and sunset.

In the beginning, the rural setting of Birdshot makes you think the film is about a crusade to save endangered species like the Philippine eagle.

But midway into the film, the mystery of the abandoned bus and two policemen figuring in the investigation provide us an eerie picture of a disturbing life in that slice of rural paradise.

With nature’s beauty as a backdrop, director Red weaves a stunning parable of evil in the countryside.

The sense of calm portrayed by a young maiden (Mary Joy Apostol) and her father (Manuel Acquino) contrasts with the life of local policemen.

There is real evil in the eyes of police chief with stunning portrayal of Dido de la Paza. The idealistic new police recruit (Arnold Reyes) goes through a strange transformation that is a tribute to his capability as an actor.

As for the other policeman Mendoza (John Arcilla), he delivers another tour de force showing his versatility as an actor.

He is always in control, the delivery is often spontaneous, sly and cunning at some point but always worthy of an acting trophy.

On the whole, the Mikhail Red film is another classic retelling of trouble in paradise.

With its beautiful photography capturing the idyllic landscape of Isabela, the film could have been set in Ozamiz, Maguindanao or Boracay.

It is a big coincidence that policemen these days hog the headlines for killings identified with anti-drug operations.

In Birdshot, director Red makes a big, but subtle statement on the state of corruption in the rural areas.

Rated A by the Cinema Evaluation Board, Birdshot is now showing in cinemas as part of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.

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