The Class of ‘86
by Jansen Musico
D: Auraeus Solito
S: Gammy Lopez, Annicka Dolonius, Elijiah Castillo, Carl John Barrameda, Shayne Fajutagana, Jonathan Neri, EJ Jallorina, Alfred Alain Labastos, Eugene Domingo, Wena Basco, Arnold Reyes
Pisay is a film that spans four years, set in a place that is very close to director Auraeus Solito’s heart. The film’s main star is his beloved alma mater, the Philippine Science High School, or Pisay for short. The period he covers is also sentimental. His story flows like a class slam book of batch ‘86. It gives the audience a peek into the private lives of the students and their educators. Given the setting and time frame, Solito’s telling of the high school experience is unique. The way he does it is special as well. Using a year, a class, and a specific student per segment, he is able to weave Philippine history with the trails that come with adolescence and studying in one of the toughest exclusive high schools in the country.
Freshman year introduces us to Rom (Gammy Lopez), an alternate admitted at the last minute. He enters the school as a stranger, but quickly feels at home being with like-minded individuals. Rom is smart, a fact repeatedly pointed out by his physics teacher Ms. Casas (Eugene Domingo). But Rom, too, is young, and his hormones eventually get the best of him when he falls for Wena (Annicka Dolonius). The two are worlds apart, Rom being a vendor and OFW’s son and Wena being part of the country’s elite, but their conflict never arises there. The school’s standards play a big part, and it opens up a discourse on love (or something like it) versus studies.
Second year follows Matt (Carl John Barrameda), the smartest kid from his hometown in the province, who turns out to be the dullest in his sophomore batch. Matt struggles with math despite the support he gets from his teacher. It isn’t completely his fault, as it’s revealed that the stress of living in a boarding house with a bunch of bullies and a bad case of homesickness are getting to the poor boy. Luckily he has a best friend in Minggoy (Elijah Castillo) and the academic stipend he’s saving for a brand new pair of Sauconies—one of the many constant reminders of the decade.
Junior year is about Liway (Shayne Fajutagana) and Andy (Jonathan Neri), lab partners and social science group mates who discover that chemistry is also applicable out of class. Liway is the daughter of an Ifugao freedom fighter, a man on Marcos’s hit list. Like her father, she fights for human rights and puts it into practice when the school implements a class segregation system. Andy, on the other hand, is a guy on his way to being the high school corps commander. It’s their being polar opposites that keeps them together, but it’s the looming events of 1985 that eventually dictate their individual fates. This is, perhaps, the strongest segment of the film.
Senior year is capped by Euri (EJ Jallorina), a student in the midst of an important pre-college crisis. He has to choose between sticking with the rules of Pisay and taking a degree in science or following his heart in drama. All of this happens while the country is nearing the eve of its historic revolution. Euri gets inspired by current events and stages a play that is met with strict censorship from Ms. Casas, who’s seen more than her fair share of student activists get killed by the government. But with the help of his friends and eager teachers (Wena Basco and Arnold Reyes), Euri defies the system and ultimately gets the kind of liberation he’s aspiring for.
Pisay ends on a hopeful note, with each ongoing story arc closing in different ways. It is as symbolic as it is nostalgic. It celebrates the Filipino’s fight for freedom in the 80s as well as the relationships and many colorful experiences Solito and his friends built during their stay in Pisay.