Monday, August 5, 2019

ANi (The Harvest)


The year is 2050 and life is different in the country. Giant company Paros now monopolizes most of the basic services on offer, encroaching on small-time businesses and taking away people’s sources of livelihood. Mithi (Zyren dela Cruz) is left to take care of his ill Mother (Anna Luna) after his Father (Miguel Valdes) is taken away from them by the call of duty. A gifted toy designer, his mother leaves him designs of her work before she succumbs to her illness. Now an orphan, Mithi is sent back to the province to be with his Grandfather (Ricky Davao). Life in the province is simpler than it is in now futuristic Manila, but even there the reach of Paros is pretty much prevalent. Banking on the myth of magical grains narrated to him by his father, Mithi goes on a quest to find them for his ailing grandfather, but finds a malfunctioning warbot instead.

The problem with Ani is its tagline. Welcome, citizens of year 2050, but we never get to see much of 2050 aside from what happens indoors. Sure, we get a glimpse of a post-modern Philippines whose islands are linked by high-speed trains as well as the evolution of our obsession with screens, but beyond that, nada. You’d be expecting to see what have changed over time outdoors, but there isn’t much to witness. Or perhaps it’s just an issue of expectations? In spite of its futuristic twist, Ani is a story of grief after all.

When a person loses his parents at such a young age, how does he/she cope? That’s what this narrative explores, and that’s where its heart lies. The warbot becomes the kid’s friend, or in the bigger scheme of things, his defense mechanism, his crutch to aid him as he navigates his new reality. In the end he realizes that he does not need the robot after all, because the metaphorical hero who saves the day lies within him all along. It is when you analyze the story through this lens that you get to appreciate the poignant heartbreak involved in the storyline, as well as the team’s efforts.

This is not to say that the CGI sucks. On the contrary, it is downright amazing considering the budget constraints involved in festival entries like this. Lest we forget, this is an indie film. We can only imagine what visual masterpiece these young animators can come up with given a mainstream budget. Calling Star Cinema, maybe you want to fund our homegrown animators? Otherwise they will just contribute to the brain drain and maybe move to Disney or Pixar. So much talent!

Another effort worth applauding is the decision to have the characters speak another Philippine language other than Tagalog and where else can such bravery be rewarded than at Cinemalaya. At first I was at a loss at what language was being spoken until a facade of Catanduanes State University is shown, which means it must be one of Bicolandia’s tongues. It reminds you that we are a country of various nations after all, and it is always cool to see more regional representation in film.

Overall, this is a more than decent attempt to present something fresh and technologically advanced in Philippine cinema. Perhaps the only caveat is, as mentioned, that this is a story of grief more than anything else. The futuristic aspect is just a bonus, if anything. The plot can be a bit dragging given how the characters dwell on their personal problems instead of allocating the screen time to a vision of a futuristic Philippines which they might not have the luxury of exploring.

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