Film Review: HUSTISYA
Aunor’s topnotch acting, Lamangan’s directing prowess and Lee’s masterly script highlight
By Rachelle Cruz
With nearly 400 films in the roster, the 39th annual Toronto International Film Festival kicked off Sept. 4 to 14. This year, three films from the Philippines made the cut: Lav Diaz’s What is Before, Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s Where I am King, and celebrated filmmaker Joel Lamangan’s Hustisya.
“It’s an honour to be invited in such a festival, because it becomes a show window of my film. A show window of the truth that I would like to be said about the country, and it’s always an open opportunity to say so, an opportunity given not to everybody,” Lamangan said. It’s not the first for this veteran Filipino director to have his film premiere internationally at TIFF. Thirteen years ago, his film Hubog was one of the Filipino entries.
Aided by top-notch cast and veteran actress Ms. Nora Aunor and Ricky Lee’s script, the social realist flick is a harsh commentary on the perpetual corruption, criminality, and injustices that unfold within the nitty-gritty set of Manila. Nora Aunor plays a faithful and loyal servant to this outrageously wealthy woman (played by Rosanna Roces), blindly serving her, while she gets pulled in the dark world of human trafficking and sex slavery. Many layers of symbolism surfaced throughout the scenes that underscore the hypocrisy of people, either out of desperation, or out of greed, or out of poverty, crystallized by the many hands that exchanged using the white envelope to illustrate how ‘blood money’ or under the table’ ‘bayad’ can buy you power, buy you a life, or take one.
“Well it’s a comment on people who do not say anything. Who just accept anything that they see. Corruption is you know, it’s in the Philippines. Wherever you go, from the very, very lowest political strata which is the Barangay to the upper strata which is the highest form of governance, there’s corruption. And people should be talking, people should be discussing it, it should not be hidden,” Lamangan said matter-of-factly.
The first ten minutes of the film already introduces the audience to the world of human trafficking, of young girls being fooled to think they will be working abroad to reach a better life, but in turn, the film demonstrates that they are hot commodities for sex slavery, for the reaping of wealthy elite benefactors who perpetuate the dangerous and hellish cycle. Biring (Nora Aunor) is caught in that cycle, first as a passive outsider, then later becoming an active participant in trafficking. She often catches herself in a personal struggle of staying loyal to the game and surviving, or breaking out, and potentially endangering not only her life, but also her loved ones.
Lamangan reunites with Nora Aunor, but this time, he explained that she doesn’t play the heroine, “It’s always an experience, it’s always a new experience because through the years she has aged, and just like an old wine, she has become better and better as an actress. And in Hustisya this is the first time that she’ll be doing a role that she has not done in her career. Here, she’s not a positive character, here, she’s a part of an underground movement, is a part of a syndicate that’s doing human trafficking,” Lamangan said.
The general consensus from audience reactions show that Lamangan’s film was well-directed, and that main star had an outstanding performance. But the heavy scenes that painted the suffering and desperation lingering on the streets of Manila, of people living in abject poverty, of the women behind bars, of crooked lawyers playing within the confines of a warped justice system, of children starving, juxtaposed to wealthy priests and churches, of affluent families and endless parties, for many the film was too much to take.
“Yeah I enjoyed it, but I cannot swallow it, for what is you know, going on in the Philippines. But I know it’s true. I know that’s what’s going on, I know it’s true especially the politicians,” Percie Inacay said.
“I did like the film, it’s a riveting movie and Nora Aunor’s performance as usual is fantastic. You know it makes me sad to know that this kind of thing is still happening in the Philippines,” Evelyn Pagkalinawan added.
“Bakit ganun? Hindi magagandang lugar ang pinakikita. At saka, it’s too much. You know like, it’s mostly negative things about the Philippines, there’s nothing positive about it but anyway it was really well-directed and the actress was really great,” Susan Llanera, another film-goer, expressed in frustration.
The film is eligible for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. But like it or not, Lamangan’s film wants to make a point.