The Bloody Chamber
by Don Jaucian
Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat (Shadows of Noon, 2011)
D: Ivory Universe Baldoza
S: Martha Nikko Comia, Althea Vega, Ness Roque, Flor Salanga
Feminine wiles take center stage in Ivy Baldoza’s Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat. The film is a sensual shadow play in the darkest recesses of the female psyche, tapping various degrees of desire, longing, and despair. It crawls into the subspace of sexual awakening and the gradual slipping of innocence by the use of some of the most controversial images in Philippine cinema, and their effects are of varying credibility. Their placements can be a little bit questionable, but as the film ends its gruesome pilgrimage, the images skitter and settle, lost in the haze of summer’s end.
Its three central characters, Ines, Ezra, and Odessa (brilliantly played by Martha Comia, Althea Vega, and Ness Roque, respectively), reflect the burrowing core of the film. Here are three characters, all set to explore the complications of the world, with one barely into adolescence. When Odessa has her first period, her mother Esther (Flor Salanga) coaxes her to smear her face with her own menstruation, insisting that it is a tradition handed down from generations to clear a budding woman’s skin. The idea of course repulses Odessa, but it isn’t really more than an act of using her own blood as facial wash. Her actions are part of a rebellion against her mother’s straitjacketing. She sets out to find a boyfriend, she stuffs her bra to get a boy’s attention, and she hangs around with Ines, asking her about the rituals of womanhood.
But it is Ezra that we are drawn most to. Althea Vega’s face seethes with the tenacity of the most evil women to grace celluloid, but she masks this with a visage so delicate and endearing. Her looks cut and bruise, but her womanly instincts are even more dangerous. She takes after her mother, all matronly, strict, and chained to a life revolving around household chores. As she observes Ines and Odessa, she also embarks in her own explorations, venturing off into the woods, taking away her own virginity with a fruit, and cavorting with a woodsman who passes the time by fucking holes in banana trees. Her pain is inarticulate, but her desire to break free from the restrictions of her mother’s reach takes form in these mutinies, taking full shape like her breasts on her tight dresses.
Amid all of this, Esther’s presence lingers. Her bland, old-world impositions are apparent in each of the girls’s actions, as well as the menacing stares of the household and all of its contents, an abode that Esther has claimed for their own. Her maternal instincts aren’t that blinded by her own beliefs; it is her insistence to keep to the ways that generations of her family has learned to follow to survive. But when Ines’s mother mysteriously disappears into the forest, only to be found naked, bearing marks of sexual transgressions, their family is shamed into retracting to a more shrouded existence.
Much like the house, the forest in Mga Anino acts as a cave teeming with desires and the fantastic. Ines searches the woods for answers about her mother’s past, only to find their most shocking manifestations. The forest hems her in, drawing Odessa and Ezra as well until all three of them are shocked into the repercussions of their own misconducts. Found objects sustain their exploits, and a rock acts as a womb where they listen for whispers, signals to point them to a direction where there is less misery and decay.
Shadows stir in corners as the footfalls crunch the indecencies that the floorboards hide. But Mga Anino is never about resolve. The closure feels more like a patch in a gap, and the sequences feel headier as it goes along. But its beguiling leads carry it on. The characters eventually break off into their own tangents, but there is a strangeness that gathers around them, an atmosphere bloodied by their own pyschosexual meanderings.