The De Dios family is the perfect example of a happy brood, unconventionally large for the modern era but full of love nonetheless. Antonio (Ricky Davao) works as the barangay chairman and is said to be a good man, but his reputation experiences a downswing when he survives two separate grenade and gun attacks from unknown assailants. Rumors start to swirl, but Mercy (Nora Aunor) is adamant and shows a brave face in public, even though she herself is already beginning to doubt the activities of her very own husband. When hooded men with guns storm their house in the middle of the night, their lives are put in jeopardy. When their son Andy (JC de Vera) is also entangled in what appears to be baseless accusations against their family, Mercy decides to take a stand, in spite of all the warnings she receives about not going against the system because there is just no winning against it.
Being brutally honest, Kabisera bored me. There is always this one big family drama come MMFF season which we are supposed to tolerate because it’s Christmas anyway. And Christmas is all about family, right? This year, that token family slot was probably between this movie and Mano Po 7. Having both of them in one festival will turn out to be a big redundancy, and Kabisera simply had the upper hand because of its controversial theme. And Nora Aunor. Personally, either one of them could have done the job. My reaction to both films is equally meh, but my problem with Kabisera is the rather old-school manner by which the story is told. It’s like watching a dragging episode of Ipaglaban Mo on Sunday afternoon TV.
The direction must be the one to blame. There are awkward acting moments coming from Davao and some members of the cast, and that is plain weird coming from the former who is a veteran actor. There seems to be a mismatch with the transition of the mood necessary in each scene, with contrasting emotions brought over from one to the next. The musical score is all over the place as well. It felt like a shrill drama equivalent of a laugh track used in sitcoms. It’s as if the director is reminding the audience that hey, this is a really emotional scene. You should cry. Here, cry with the musical score! It’s kind of insulting because it looks as though the director does not trust the audience’s EQ. Build-up for emotionally charged scenes like that is supposed to come naturally and with subtlety. Otherwise, it feels contrived and awkward.
Nora Aunor is Nora Aunor. Her acting style is really the antithesis of Vilma Santos’. This woman can suffer silently onscreen and keep it poignant. Sometimes you must wonder how she achieves such a feat, but then again she’s been acting for how many decades now. She has become the Meryl Streep of this festival. All she has to do is make a movie and she is sure to be nominated, not because of her status as an acting legend, but because she never disappoints. On the contrary, this role is obviously not her best, even in comparison with the recent ones that she’s had in the last few years. That breakdown scene alone, though, is already more than enough to merit her acting nomination.
However, what the film doesn’t lack is social relevance and timeliness. They couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate screening than now, when the issue of extra-judicial killings is still current. Just like Oro, it is a social dilemma that we always hear about on the evening news, although we could say that the subject matter of Kabisera hits closer to home because such killings are happening right here in the metro. The storyline is actually based on real events, and there is a note before the end credits saying that Mercy is still seeking justice for her family, but is having a hard time getting through the justice system. If anything, the film provides a good venue for families of EJK victims to be heard. After all, theirs is a David vs. Goliath fight that is truly hard to win, what with all odds going against them.