Folktale and social reality
Interspersed with the animated part, you see social reality unfold in the plight of a Muslim wife, Saima (Judy Ann Santos)
Mindanao’s official Facebook page
Folktale and social reality
Pablo A. Tariman (The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Film review: Mindanao

MANILA, Philippines — You need dual focus to grasp what director Brillante Mendoza is trying to say in his latest output, Mindanao.

Because he tells the story of the region by way of a folktale detailing the exploits of the brothers Rajah and Sulayman and how they coped with the dragons Ginto and Pula.

Interspersed with the animated part, you see social reality unfold in the plight of a Muslim wife, Saima (Judy Ann Santos) and her husband, Malang (Allen Dizon), the combat medic. Determined Saima is hoping against hope in this building fittingly called House of Hope while Malang looks after casualties of encounters with rebels.

Her husband, Malang (Allen Dizon, above), the combat medic.

You can’t help but remember the plight of SAF 44 as the film mentions Liguasan Marsh and Mamasapano somewhere in the narration.

But in between folktale and harsh reality, you get the thread of the director’s focus. There is a beautiful evocation of the Muslim way of life and how strong Muslim women can be. In the House of Hope, where she literally hopes against hope to save her daughter, Saima finds time to teach women how to interpret a Muslim dance using the malong and its uses and intricacies.

One’s attention is easily caught by how Judy Ann defines Saima. Projecting a strong psyche, her Saima is basically quiet, even contained and not given to hysteria even as doctors say the chances of her daughter surviving a malignant tumor is, to put it bluntly, slim. She has no one to turn to for comfort. She thinks of her husband also trying to save victims of violent encounters with rebels. Midway into the film, you can see that she is a woman alone but her inner strength is a big source of comfort. One expects her to scream like a typical mother when told of her daughter’s hopeless status. But in this role, Judy Ann portrays the part with strength and dignity and with that unequivocal acceptance that gives her portrayal a stunning focus and patina.

Like it or not, Mindanao is Judy Ann’s tour de force. In this role, she totally departs from teleserye acting and confronts the role with more than her share of refined instinct and experience. As the film ends on a frame of her on this hill overlooking the sea, she projects her heretofore unknown acting arsenal which gives the film a unique finale.

True, a Brillante Mendoza film requires a highly focused viewer who can easily get lost in in the maze of cinematic allegories and symbolisms. The film narrative can get tedious and boring in some parts.

But as one shifts through this poignant Muslim burial scene, you see a filmmaker trying to project Muslim culture with more than its share of exoticism.

Yes, one agrees this is one of Brillante’s more accessible films worthy of comparisons to his other equally commendable films with Mindanao setting like Sinapupunan (Thy Womb) and Captive starring the star of The Piano Teacher, Isabelle Huppert.

By and large, the film shows the director with uncommon sensibility.

Still showing in cinemas, Mindanao dominated the 2019 Metro Manila Film Festival awards night by winning Best Picture, Best Director (Brillante), Best Actor (Allen) and Best Actress (Judy), among others.

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