The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Don Jaucian
Mamay Umeng (2012)
D: Dwein Baltazar
S: Gerry Adeva, Sue Prado, Ramona Revilla
Mamay (Gerry Adeva) moves in circles, waking up for the day when Death finally takes him. Instead of depicting old age through a comedic verve, director Dwein Baltazar opts to sculpt a portrait of a man who cloaks himself in silence as he prepares for his eventual demise.
Mamay Umeng opens with a supposedly happy occassion: Mamay Umeng’s birthday. He’s clearly past his prime. His face is saggy, all lined with his eight decades of existence. His day comprises dull, lethargic activities, such as listening to the AM radio, sitting in his front porch, and eating pandesal and washing it down with a glass of milk. He wanders off, mostly early in the morning, like any senile old man. He always tries to cross the rice paddies on the other side of their house. We don’t know what waits for him in those woods, populated by sagging coconut trees, whispering in the darkness. By the time the finale eases in at last (much to the relief of the viewers who managed to sit through the film), this patch of land transforms into an otherworld of sorts, whirring in the company of The Strangeness’s eerie score.
The film is a hard watch. It mostly spends its time watching over Mamay as he pores through the slow burn of life. But he goes through this passively, taking his sweet time because, really, what else is there for him? Baltazar spares us Mamay’s possibly weepy background story, full of abandonment and regret. He lives with his daughter, but mostly he is left alone to himself. In these moments, he looks as if possessed by some power. He walks miles and miles, only to end up in an abandoned shack. This is his form of rebellion, his final parry against the forces that be, his attempt at putting back some life he’s lost long ago. But all this is punctuated by the looming sense of doom that he has invited in the first place.
Mamay Umeng, with all its sketches of sadness and alienation, gracefully plunges us head first into the primordial soup. After all, this anticipation is also a new beginning for Mamay, who will finally face whatever afterlife he believes in. Mamay barely speaks a word (when he does, he actually sings with a friend, who eventually dies the day after) but we can see the questions that register in his face and gestures every time he wakes up. It’s not merely a matter of whether he’s done enough in his life, it’s about whether he’s done the right things to the right people that will finally grant him the reprieve of death.