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04 August 2014

Cinemalaya 2014: “Bwaya” (Film Review)

“Bwaya” is an example of proper slow cinema; scenes lingered when warranted, and speeds up when necessary. Oftentimes, a director masks his laziness with long lingering shots when obviously such shots are gratuitous. At other times, a simple lack of understanding of the correct use of slow cinema techniques is the culprit.

Director Francis Xavier Pasion obviously had a clear understanding of and respect for his subject matter.  His style works because it helps capture the serenity but hidden unpredictable danger of the Agusan marshland. The Manobo integrity is never in peril and the natives are presented as dignified people living simple lives, and despite having meager means, they still dream and work for a brighter future. They are not so different from the rest of the country. Professional actors work alongside non-actors and the dialect and folk stories of the place are part of the fabric of the film. This commitment to authenticity elevated a culturally distinct story into something universal, which is the pain of losing a young child and having no control over powerful unfathomable forces.

Cinemalaya Best Film (New Breed)
"Bwaya" is not entirely a "docufiction" but it is close. The dramatization of a real event is combined with documentary elements, which not only guarantees authenticity but also stresses a point. Pasion perhaps uses this technique to differentiate himself from many television reporters who regard real life tragedies as mere news stories but without a genuine attempt to acknowledge the feelings of the subject matter. Pasion was astute enough to give the real mother a voice or a platform to vent her complaints against media practitioners who exploited her pain. The fusion of documentary and drama was not perfect but commendable. On top of that, “Bwaya” offers some of the most visually stunning aerial shots in Philippine cinema in recent years.

In terms of performance, Angeli Bayani continues to solidify her reputation as one of the country's most committed thespians. She spoke in Manobo in the entire film. She inhabited her character both physically and spiritually. If you observe the brief scene when the real mother embraces her two children, you will discover that Bayani's portrayal of the real mother is dead on: from the way the mother moves and cries to the way she sits and speaks. That is method acting at work or perhaps just instinctive talent.

Please stay up to the end of the credits. You will miss an important scene if you leave immediately.

Which film will be our entry? 
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Which Films Should You Watch in this Year's Cinemalaya (2014)
Critics' Awards
Post-Analysis Essay (soon) 

2014 Entries

2013 Cinemalaya Essays
What is a Critic?
Our Choices: 2013 Cinemalaya

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