Elmer (Joem Bascon) mines gold for a living. His girlfriend Linda (Mercedes Cabral) is pregnant, but hasn’t told him yet because she does not know how he’ll react. Both are contemplating marriage, but neither one wants to take the initiative to propose. Kapitana (Irma Adlawan) has been heading her small island village for the last two decades. She is also in charge of playing the role of intermediary between the townsfolk and the central bank, buying the gold and selling it on their behalf. The local livelihood is brought to a standstill when armed men arrive and arrest the miners, claiming to be working as part of the government’s environmental protection group. Kapitana then enlists the help of the mayor and DENR, but the armed men won’t yield, citing the governor as their backer. What follows is a political tug-of-war between the oppressor and the oppressed, culminating in a bloodbath that the town has never witnessed before, all because of gold.
Now I know why they won the Best Ensemble Cast award. There is no weak link in terms of acting. The two main baddies are so effective they make you want to grab one of their guns and shoot them with it yourself. I’m talking about the long-haired guy and the bearded boss. These are grown men who can get a legit job as their form of livelihood and yet they choose to terrorize people and prey on the weak because they have guns. Where is the justice in that? If you find such characters so repugnant, then that must imply that the actors who portrayed them are that good. I suppose they are not jerks in real life. They should try their luck in soap operas. They’ll surely get a lot of haters.
IRMA ADLAWAN. Damn. The much talked about interview scene is just the icing on top of the cake. Her take on Kapitana is so on point. At first it comes off as rather meddlesome and a bit annoying, but then you get to realize how accurate her portrayal is of the village chief whom everyone looks up to for support for just about everything that they need in daily life. There is a special term for that concept in Political Science relating to political dynamics here in Southeast Asia. I just forgot what it is called, but this film is a very good case study on how the authoritative figure in a certain society is expected to fix all problems, be present in all the events no matter how small. Be super, in short. It is still very much alive in small towns and representative of the local politics there, especially in rural areas.
Cabral could have won the Best Supporting Actress award, but perhaps the jury was just enchanted by Walker’s enigmatic Sister Cecilia. Cabral’s take on Linda is neither hysterical nor subdued. Her breakdown scene towards the end is natural as is where is acting, which is probably why it felt as though you’re not watching a movie, but rather observing a real life barrio lass in grief. Bascon also gives justice to Elmer, whose mix of helplessness and rage is summarized well by his sharp stares. If only looks could kill.
What makes Oro successful as a film is the opportunity it gives to people who do not have a voice. We often hear about such tragic tales on the evening news, but these characters are usually reduced to a number, a statistic, a figure devoid of humanity. This movie gives those victims a face, a story, and in doing so you get to sympathize more with their plight. Film has always had that kind of power, that empathy, and it takes on a whole different meaning when used for that purpose. The story of Oro is one that needs to be heard. It makes you stop, look, and realize that such horrible events are happening. What you can do about it is totally up to you, but at least the awareness is already there.
Some netizens and PAWS are in an uproar regarding the depiction of animal cruelty in the film. A dog was brutally killed and skinned alive before being cooked as a snack for the goons’ midnight drinking session. We can’t really blame them for reacting that way because the scene looks genuine. Whether they really did that to the dog in question is subject to debate, although it is rather unimaginable for a movie in this day and age to resort to such unethical deed just for authenticity. Elmer is shot straight to the head, but we still see Bascon walking around and very much alive. Maybe the director just knows how to make the scenes look legit? Besides, we can’t pretend that this does not happen in the provinces. Not because it is depicted onscreen means it is being condoned. Besides, cinema is more descriptive rather than normative when it comes to movies of this genre.
I have seen six out of eight MMFF entries so far, and this is the only one that has left me totally flabbergasted that I had to sit down for a while after the credits rolled to pull myself together, because I just did not know how to respond. It touched a nerve and evoked such a strong reaction. I was reminded that a film could actually do that, and for a moment there I smiled. Someone give the members of this year’s executive committee a bonus. Thank you so much for giving us quality movies that make us feel optimistic about the future of Philippine cinema.