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29 July 2013

Alvin B. Yapan’s “Debosyon” (Review): “Faith as a Public Spectacle or an Intimate Union with God”

The original title of this essay
was "A Modern Day Forktale"
Director Alvin Yapan is not your typical independent film director. He is probably the most Filipino of all current breed of directors.  I have always felt more Filipino every time I watch a Yapan film.  His love for our culture and the arts is evident in his last two films.  Yapan is astutely adept at lyrical filmmaking.  He utilizes the senses above all else. He gives equal weight to the power of words, music and the visual imageries to tell a layered story.  As a result, his recent works have always been more ethereal and lyrical than straightforward.  His new film only proves that “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa” is just a rehearsal for him.  In “Debosyon,” Yapan paints on a broader canvas and creates a modern day folk tale that is neither a critique of the subject matter nor a biased promotion. 

“Debosyon” tells a story of Mando (Paulo Avelino), a religious country lad who injured himself in the jungle of Mount Mayon while scouring for wild orchids.  A country maiden (Mara Lopez) nursed him back to health. At first glance, the fair-skinned Lopez may seem miscast to play a woman who spends most her life in the mountains, but suspend judgment and everything will become logical at the end.  Lopez is indeed the best choice for the part. 

The dialogues are completely in Rinconada Bikol and kudos for Yapan for not selling out and not allowing the actors to speak in mix Rinconada and Tagalog.  Brillante Mendoza made that mistake in “Thy Womb.” Only the poetic nuances of the native dialect can bring authenticity to the film. Unfortunately, after consulting with a native Bicolano, Avelino’s and Lopez’s pronunciations and inflections are not always consistent unlike that of Ramona Rañeses's delivery.  Understandably, Rañeses is a Bicolana.

“Debosyon” also wonderfully captured in film the spectacle of the Feast of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, from the street procession to the glorious fluvial parade.  The film celebrates devotion in its sensory state rather than the cerebral.  Perhaps only Yapan can bring justice to a tricky theme like “Debosyon.”  One misstep and the film might become ridiculous but with Yapan on the helm, “Debosyon” invigorates the viewers’ senses.  After all, Yapan is becoming a master of translating the language of the senses on the screen.  Some viewers may be taken aback by the ending, but it is typical of Yapan.  Call it a “Yapan” ending.

Bottom line, "Debosyon" explores the often neglected link between Western religion and pre-colonial pagan devotion that it is centered on preservation and protection. Filipinos simply transferred the pagan rituals to our Christian faith but in the process, we lose the protective and intimate aspects of our native devotion. Faith is now a public, sometimes a commercial spectacle, and not an intimate communion with God. Mando's realization in the end sums up Yapan's point.  

Paulo Avelino is one of the few popular young stars of today taking on non-traditional leading man roles, and he has had some successes, most notably in “Sayaw.” In "Debosyon," Avelino's complexion is too fair to be taken seriously as a farmer, and in a sea of tan skin Bicolanos during the procession, he stood out more like a movie star than a character. In "Sayaw," his boyish good looks worked to his advantage but in “Debosyon,” he needed devices to make himself disappear into the role.   His character’s hairstyle may seem weird but it actually works.  The bangs also help conceal his mestizo looks; and we cannot really deny the fact that the camera loves Avelino.  Luckily, under the guidance of Yapan and Avelino's evolving acting skills, he manages to be convincing.  He also got the walk and the stance although not always consistent.  Still, he gives a sympathetic performance, specifically during his quiet moments and when he finally breaks down.  



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

* Ekstra
* Liars
* Porno
* Sana Dati

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