Review: Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (4/5)

SPOT Review: Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe)
by Fidel Antonio M. Medel

Although “Ang Panggagagahasa Kay Fe” is technically Alvin Yapan’s debut full-length feature, he is no stranger to film production. He has been involved in some critically-acclaimed films of the late like “Huling Pasada”, Cinemalaya 2008 finalist (as Assistant Director); “Rolyo”, Best Short Film in Cinemalaya 2007 (as Writer/Director); and “Tambolista”, Cinema One Originals 2007 finalist (as Supervising Producer). Now on his own, he concocts a tale that tackles domestic abuse and romanticizes Philippine mythology. An odd combination, but gripping nevertheless.

When an OFW (Irma Adlawan in the titular role) goes home to her rural township, she finds her husband (Nonie Buencamino as Dante) seemingly hostile of her return. His unpredictable pits of anger often results to acts of physical violence, but Fe occasionally turns over the other cheek. Her resilience, however, is not rewarded with hugs and kisses, but with more blows and punches. Before “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” turns into a full-blown drama about a battered wife, the real plot unfurls itself in a mystifying yet subtle fashion.

The “panggagahasa” mentioned in the title does not only refer to the sexual kind. It encompasses all other acts that strip a woman of her dignity, making her vulnerable to consider quick fixes no matter how implausible they may seem to be. In this film, Fe struggles to break away from a bad relationship. Dante’s abusive actions, coupled with his infidelity, forced her to seek another man who will save her from her miseries. The damsel-in-distress finds her knight-in-shining-armor in a former suitor (TJ Trinidad as Arturo). But due to his obligations to his kin and to their family business, eloping with Fe is not possible and practical. When the men in real life cannot stand up for her, she turns to a mysterious suitor who offers a fantasy of an escape.

The centerpiece of this film is Fe. With Yapan’s scripting dexterity (he has won several Palanca awards for his short fiction), the protagonist transcends the digital medium and becomes a real person. She is strong but frail, determined but afraid. The depth and nuances of her character are made apparent with the impeccable writing. Aside from Fe, the development of the roles of Dante, Arturo, and even Arturo’s ill father are supported by underlying stories and consistent characterization. We sympathize with the plights of these characters as if we know them on a personal level.

The concept may hit the A mark, but if poorly executed could still spell a disaster. Luckily Yapan knows what he is doing. In “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe”, he mans the camera with an artistic vision manifested in every frame and every angle. His shots linger, but not to the point of static cinematography (which I hate by the way). His close-ups suggest subdued intimacy to his subjects whether living or inanimate. His camera glides through the scenes revealing just enough without giving away too much.

The film’s strongest tool in its arsenal is the screenplay. The story is well researched. Although deeply rooted in social realism, it was able to marry reality with local lore. Much of its appeal banks on the mystery surrounding Fe’s secret admirer who may or may not exist after all. To illustrate this, the filmmaker used repeated scenes and overlapping sequences and lent them a trance-like quality in order to confuse viewers as to which is imagined and which is real. The latter part of the film is puzzling and may require a second viewing, while the ending is open to various interpretations.

This film is what Filipino cinema should be about – rich in cultural authenticity and faithful to present-day circumstances. It is relevant, original, and stunning. If “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” is any indication of the quality of films in this year’s serving of indie gems at Cinemalaya, then things are looking up for the “big, small film festival”. Catch Cinemalaya Cinco at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) from July 17 to 26.

* published in SPOT


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