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30 July 2013

Hannah Espia’s “Transit” (Review): “Points of View in Quintuple”

Many movies have been made about the plight of Filipino overseas workers and their families.  In some degree, this theme has been a staple in various film festivals.  “The Flor Contemplacion Story” is probably the most celebrated considering it won international accolades and starred Philippine cinema’s most celebrated thespian, Nora Aunor. 

Hannah Espia is the latest director to venture into the unending Filipino diaspora, but this time, Espia takes us to Israel.  “Transit,” however, presents a relatively innovative approach to storytelling. Instead of focusing on a single perspective, Espia skillfully intertwined five different points of view to present a bigger and more complicated picture.  As a result, we are able to see the same spot from many different angles.

“Transit” reveals that the problem of Filipino workers abroad is not simply a question of forced separation from the homeland, but it now includes the dilemma of identities.  How long can Filipinos abroad impose their identities on their foreign children? At what point can a foreign-born Filipino still consider himself or herself a Filipino?   As the film’s child protagonist, Joshua, declares in the film, how can you be a Filipino if you do not speak Tagalog and you do not even like adobo? 

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Being a Filipino worker abroad sometimes constitute being invisible or being a second-class citizen.  You are constantly insecure. You feel out of place, lost and a constant stranger even if you speak the language of your adopted country.  The feeling of having a “lost identity” is even more apparent to the children of overseas workers who have never stepped on Philippine soil, but the country of their birth still refuses to accept them. 

Instead of providing a preachy critique, Espia handles the film like a narrative documentary sans the usual “talk-to-the-camera” shots.  She lets the stories of each character unfold, paying equal attention to each character.  Espia’s film is more revelatory than a commentary and the style works wonderfully.  The screenplay is almost flawless and her direction confident.

Amazingly, Espia made the actors speak in Hebrew when needed giving the film authenticity.  By doing so, I believe she will reach her intended audiences—the Filipinos, the Filipino Israelis, and the governments of Israel and the Philippines.

Bottom line, the film declares that ordinary Filipinos (past, present and future) do not have a place in their own land. We are all transit dwellers, except the very few elite who own the Philippines.  Unless social justice is imposed, being Filipino is just a name. We will seek other places to find hope or surrender to indifference and helplessness.

4/5
PERFORMANCE:
 “Transit” is a one of a kind treat for Filipino moviegoers.  Specifically, it proves that Filipino thespians can go the distance.  The biggest laurel goes to the impeccable Irma Adlawan who delivered her lines in breathy and highly emotionally charged Hebrew.  Perhaps we need a native Hebrew speaker to evaluate accurately the inflections of the Filipino actors, still, Irma’s Hebrew stood out among the cast members.  You can sense that she is not just reciting her lines phonetically; she says them with enough potency as when she delivers her lines in Filipino.  Considering she plays a Filipino who learns Hebrew at work, any mispronunciation is still within character.  Perhaps, Adlawan is the closest we can get to a Filipino Meryl Streep.  If Streep can play Thatcher, Idlawan can play Gloria Arroyo.  Perhaps, the dawn of accents in Filipino acting is about to arrive, and Irma, beginning with her provincial accent in Jeffrey Jethurian’s “Tuhog,” is the first to open the door.   

P.S.
Toni Gonzaga gave the best performance of her career in just 15 minutes.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE
Cinemalaya audiences will have to wait if “Transit” wins Best Picture but, if we consider practicality, the film is more likely to get attention from the Oscars.  It has all the ingredients of an international scrutiny.  “Transit” is an Asian film set in a Middle Eastern country, the film is in English, Filipino and Hebrew and it explores the problem of identities.  

* Update, August 4, 2013: "Transit" wins Best Film

* Update, September 17, 2013: FAP chose "Transit" as Philippine entry to the 86th Oscars Best Foreign Language Film Category


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CINEMALAYA 2013 REVIEW SERIES

NEW BREED Film Reviews
Nuwebe
* The Diplomat Hotel (watched but no review)

DIRECTORS SHOWCASE Film Reviews
* Ekstra
* Liars
* Porno
* Sana Dati

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