Sunday, August 11, 2019

Iska

♣♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Iska (Ruby Ruiz) is a loving grandmother who does her best to take care of her family, especially her grandson Dongdong (Pryle Gura), the special child abandoned by her only daughter. Her husband whom she calls Asungot (Soliman Cruz) is a good for nothing womanizer who drives a jeep for a living but doesn’t contribute anything to either household chores or expenditures. He also has no sympathy towards his grandson and his special needs. Iska makes ends meet by doing double jobs as one of UP Diliman’s photocopy ladies as well as cleaning a professor’s house once a week. Leaving her grandson for a neighbor to babysit one day, she goes home to an empty house and startling news that Dongdong has been taken by the celebrity host of a TV show called Defender of the Masses, after it has been reported that the boy is being chained and abused at home.

This is the obligatory poverty porn entry that needs to be represented at every Philippine film festival, the kind that western critics are often so enamored with. It does not really offer anything new when it comes to that discourse, which is why your expectations eventually shift to the actors involved. In this regard, Iska does not disappoint as Ruiz carries the film almost singlehandedly, winning the Best Actress award in the process. She delivers a strong performance that just appeals to your emotions.

Such films tend to be used as vehicles for mainstream actors who want to crossover to the indie scene. Ruiz is not one of those actresses, but that isn’t an issue because she can easily give many of them a run for their money. She is no stranger to the indie scene and even appears in supporting roles in some of the other entries this year. She totally owned Iska, even though kudos is also well-deserved by her co-actors who helped her character shine even more amidst the discouraging poverty porn hogging the spotlight.

That aside, the movie does have its own advocacy by shedding light to the experience of taking care of children with special needs. We can only imagine how tough it could be, especially if you do not have the financial means and assistance that such a challenging endeavor requires. The opening scene alone, which shows you how such a simple act of putting a shirt on the kid can take as much as five minutes, already leaves you exhausted by merely watching it. Perhaps this is why we admire Iska’s dedication even more.

And then we get to the part where traditional media interferes and takes over what the government should be taking care of. The film takes a swipe at those media personalities that we know all too well, capitalizing on family conflicts and viewer emotions for the sake of ratings. The way Iska depicts such intervention is done in such a comical manner, a worthy mockery of these media scumbags whose arbitrary power is fed by the very people they trample on. Parasitism at its finest, indeed.

If you went to UP Diliman for college, then there will be some nostalgia involved as you see Iska operate the xerox machine at Palma Hall just by the stairs. You might even have photocopied some readings there during your time. As students nowadays rely more and more on electronics for taking notes and readings lectures, the film does update you on what’s happening at the university, where the ladies photocopying our readings used to be an integral part of the university community. This film is not autobiographical, but it’s good to see the story anchored on someone familiar.

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