by Don Jaucian
Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa (2011)
D: Mes de Guzman
S: John Paul Escobeda, Jeremie Cercenia, Zanderson Vicente
Mes de Guzman is never one for cheap shocks. His subjects may be mired in abject squalor or the digging in the muddiest of holes in the world, but he never lets them crumble under the seriousness of it all. He uncovers gems in the shittiest of places, in slaughterhouses, abandoned shacks, and shady marketplaces. He lets the dirt creep up in the dankiest spaces, allowing the weather to stir and turn, brewing a strange psychological malady that infects each of the characters. But he eventually peels the paint away, chip by chip, until tragedies unravel.
In Sa Kanto ng Ulap at Lupa, de Guzman’s ragtag bunch of kids, Yoyong, Uding, Boying, and Poklat, roam the streets and the cloud-covered mountainside of Nueva Vizcaya, taking on odd jobs just to get through the day. Yoyong and Uding eventually form a bond when Yoyong coaxes Uding to teach him how to read and write a love letter to woo a girl he likes. The two pore over a found atlas of the world, with their journey starting in Alaska, the cold, snow-infested frontier of the north. And much like the state, the mountains of Nueva Vizcaya can be an unwelcoming place to live in, especially for renegades like these four, with nights that can be unbearably chilling and the dark piercing.
Despite the gaunt promises of icy darkness, de Guzman finds light in the rhythm of their activities, sharing laughs in composing a romantic text message, finding a broken VHS player and salvaging it in the hopes of finally watching a “Chuckie Chan” film, and even chatting during a pig-gutting session. De Guzman dispels saccharine strings and swelling music to gloss out these moments and instead takes jabs and places hints at the darker things at hand.
De Guzman’s films have always been about survival. These children exist in a world that doesn’t offer kindness to the weak, throwing them crumbling morsels of hope through snuffing glue, heightening their senses as they fall further down an underworld of ladders where not even fire cuts through. They go up, they go down, shedding their innocence one rung at a time, but the place that they emerge in reeks of adhesive, paint, and thinner, a space where the abandoned and the lost dine with the crooked and the damned.