Ways of the Sea Halaw
2010, colour, 1.85:1, 75 mins
Directed by Sheron R. Dayoc
By Derek Elley
Thu, 07 October 2010, 10:53 AM (HKT)
Skilfully crafted miniature of illegal immigrants journeying by boat from the Philippines to Sabah. Festivals, plus some specialised TV.
Bongao, Tawi-Tawi province, southwest Philippines, the present day. A group of people gather at the dockside in preparation for an undercover boat trip to the east coast of Sabah, Malaysia, organised by Hernand (John Arcilla). The group includes Jahid (Aljimar Hajijol), an illiterate Badjao, who is travelling with his nine-year-old sister Daying (Arnalyn Ismael) to find their family; Mercedes (Maria Isabel Lopez), a middle-aged Visayan prostitute from Zamboanga who regularly makes the trip for business; Lydia (Ross-Ann Dalkis), a "niece" of Hernand; Oka (Edgardo Sumicad Jr.) and Tope (Randy Arnodia), two young men looking for work in the construction industry; and Nurayama (Nursiya Darangina), an elderly woman with a young man. Two other passengers, teenage sisters Rosita (Anelyn Carino) and Noemi (Justies Love Matchon), decide to pull out, meaning that Hernand doesn't make his agreed quota of bodies. As night falls, the small boat sets out on its journey.
Sheron R. DAYOC's first feature proves that less is definitely more. Ways of the Sea Halaw (2010) could easily have ended up as a routine social-issue drama with nothing to recommend itself apart from the worthy subject matter — the business of boat people between the southwest Philippines and Malaysia's Sabah. Instead, Dayoc has crafted a beautiful miniature that runs only 75 minutes, doesn't hang a crusading heart on its sleeve, and leaves more unsaid and unshown than ever reaches the screen.
On the surface, the movie is almost plotless: a small group of people gather by a primitive dock in a small town, hang around and chat, pay the money to the organiser, and then set off as dusk falls, building a kind of temporary camaraderie. Like the characters themselves, the audience knows they may be arrested by Malaysian shore police and deported back to the Philippines, as Dayoc has begun the film with its ending. But there's no sense of overwhelming tragedy to the movie: some are simply economic migrants, looking for work; another is a prostitute who's been making the trip for eight years, buying luxury goods; others are going for family reasons. In a nice touch, the audience learns no more about the characters than it would if sharing the journey with them: just piecemeal information and character traits, subtly communicated by a naturalistic looking cast.
Beauty queen-turned-actress Maria Isabel LOPEZ nicely reins in her potentially extrovert role as a middle-aged hooker for whom trips to Sabah are basically a working-cum-shopping trip, while fellow veteran John ARCILLA is believable as the human trafficker with business problems on his mind. But the heart of the movie is newcomer Arnalyn ISMAEL, a local non-professional, as the confident young nine-year-old Daying travelling to meet her mother. Small hints, typical of Dayoc's script, suggest her character may end up like Lopez' when she grows up, but Ismael's combination of cheek, sassiness and charm provides an emotional arc throughout the film for the audience to hang on to. One sustained closeup of Daying running shows all the toughness and ambition hidden behind her young front.
Equally impressive is the movie's technical finish, which adopts an unshowy camera style but pulls out the beauty shots when they're needed. Jasper PEREZ' music adds much at key moments: pounding percussion for Daying's running, or a lyrical song as the boat leaves port that catches the magic of the moment and aspirations of its passengers. End titles recording the statistics/tragedy of human trafficking seem conventional and unnecessary, worthy of a much lesser movie.
ContactSales: Los Peliculas Linterna Studio, Zamboanga City, Philippines (email@example.com)
Premiere: Cinemalaya (New Breed), 10 Jul 2010. Theatrical release: TBA.
Presented by Cinemalaya Foundation (PH), Soundesign Manila (PH), Underground Logic (PH). Produced by Los Peliculas Linterna Studio (PH). Producers: Sheron R. Dayoc, Lilit Reyes.
Script: Sheron R. Dayoc. Additional scenes: Mary Joy Honey Alipio, John Paul Bedia, Lilit Reyes. Photography: Arnel Babarona, Dexter Dela Pena. Editing: Chuck Gutierrez, Lester Olayer. Music: Jasper Perez. Production design: Amar Sharif. Costumes: Alrashid Baddiri. Sound: Maki Serapio, Joel Sangalang, Jona Paculan, Carlos Tanada, Moks Vitasa.
Cast: John Arcilla (Hernand), Maria Isabel Lopez (Mercedes), Arnalyn Ismael (Daying), Ross-Ann Dalkis (Lydia), Aljimar Hajijol (Jahid), Rodaine Avalie (Satra), Nursiya Darangina (Nurayama), Edgardo Sumicad Jr. (Oka), Randy Arnodia (Tope), Ammam Sahi (Junal), Nasri Tawasil (Amir), Anelyn Carino (Rosita), Justies Love Matchon (Noemi), Reden Silven (Khalil), Fharwis Amil (Abdul), Joel Bustamente (Omar), Maimuna Mutos (Jumala).