Wednesday, August 7, 2019



A young boy named Edward (Louise Abuel) is left at the hospital by his half-brother to take care of their ill father, whose respiratory illness cannot be diagnosed because of the lack of equipment at the local government hospital where he is confined. Not a place for a young boy to spend his time, Edward amuses himself by befriending another boy his age, the two making bets on the lives of emergency room patients to earn some extra cash. They also do small favors for the station nurses for some coins. Edward’s daily boredom is interrupted by the arrival of Agnes (Ella Cruz), a young girl who is hospitalized after an accident and for whom he develops an emotional attachment. Finally getting a reason to like the limbo he is in, his half-brother arrives just in time for his father’s diagnosis, which could mean that their time at the hospital will soon be over.

The opening scene is that of a busy government hospital punctuated by arrivals of ill patients, some of them at the brink of death. Some are attended to by doctors for just a minute or two before being whisked away to another patient, emphasizing the grave lack of manpower these places suffer from. It is not a good environment for a child in his formative years, but here we see our main protagonist seemingly desensitized by the misery surrounding him. It is at this point that you realize how this can be Cinemalaya’s socially relevant offering this year.

It is in the midst of this demoralizing setting where Edward’s coming of age story is established. Tweens his age should be in school busy being an adolescent yet here he is, forced to prematurely mature because of some unavoidable realities of life. When it comes to this kind of poverty porn, it is in the interest of the filmmaker to show the silver lining despite all the misery. After all, that’s what life is all about, right? This is where the puppy love subplot comes in, but even that is not enough to offset the rather grim conclusion of the narrative.

The first half can be a bit dragging yet interesting nonetheless because of the third-world reality you are witnessing onscreen. Anyone with a reputable health card will not find himself in such a terrible hospital where all that’s missing is Death at the door welcoming you with his scythe. But then again, not everyone has either luxury or privilege, and people living under the poverty line experience this on a daily basis. It is tragic and sad, but nonetheless true. It feels like an immersion without getting your feet wet.

The second half becomes a mini suspense thriller with a heist kind of feel. I won’t spoil the details for you. While the subplot feels contrived and too convenient, the reason behind it, even if you believe it to be trivial, reinforces the view of life from the perspective of a kid robbed of innocence at such an early age. It’s poignant naivety at its finest, tugging at the audience’s heartstrings in the process. What comes next is a heartbreaking conclusion which ironically translates to freedom, reminding you that no matter what happens, life goes on. There is no pause button, regardless how old or privileged you are.

I did not expect much from this film. To be honest, I did not even know what it was about before I went to watch it at CCP. Overall, it has been a pleasant surprise: eye-opening, heartbreaking, highly affective, and one of, if not, the best of this year’s films in competition. It’s the ugly truth of life staring you in the face, and as you stare back, you get to realize how lucky and privileged you are to not be in this young boy’s tattered slippers. Schadenfreude, it is, indeed.

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