By Derek Elley
Film Business Asia
Wed, 27 May 2015, 20:20 PM (HKT)
2015, colour, 16:9, 92 mins
Directed by Brillante Ma. Mendoza
“Characters are casually introduced as if the viewer already knows them, and their backgrounds and relationships have to be pieced together or guessed from small clues. The most affecting is undoubtedly Bebeth, owner of a small eating place, whose charity towards others — despite having lost three of her children — shines through the film like a beacon of hope, largely thanks to the performance by veteran NORA AUNOR”
A climate-change info-film wrapped inside a very average docudrama. Festivals loyal to Brillante Mendoza.
Tacloban city, Leyte island, Eastern Visayas, central Philippines, 2014. Almost a year after the city was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Typhoon Haiyan), little action has been taken by the government to deal with the homelessness and social problems caused. Bebeth (Nora Aunor), who runs a carinderia (small eating place), has lost three of her children and now has only her teenage daughter Angela (Shine Santos) left; pensioner Renato (Lou Veloso) has just lost his whole family in a fire among some tents; young fisherman Erwin (Aaron Rivera) and his brother Marlon (Rome Mallari) try to hide the death of their parents from younger sister Daisy; and the widowed Larry (Julio Diaz) descends into masochistic religious rituals in order to handle his grief. Bebeth tries to collect money to help Renato, and also to get her ex-husband, tricycle driver Angel (Soliman Cruz), to register his DNA to help identify their children's bodies among the dead. When a tsunami is rumoured to be on its way, the population is evacuated to the city's Astrodome building for protection; in the event, the warning proves unfounded, with just strong winds and rain. Afterwards, Daisy and her brothers move back into their shoreside shack, which has suffered only minor damage, but find a thief making off with some of the corrugated iron. Due to government inaction, some of the homeless organise a petition. And with another typhoon, Lolit, now expected, people band together to rescue another of their number, Aunt Soping, from a landslide caused by the recent storm.
Funded by Philippine government sources, Trap Taklub is a climate-change info-film wrapped inside a very average docudrama. It's the latest (and first feature-length) collaboration between Brillante Ma. MENDOZA and journalist-turned-senator Loren LEGARDA, a noted environmentalist, following their 33-minute documentary Downpour Buhos (2011) (about pollution and climate change) and the slickly packaged, 16-minute instructional video Ligtas (2013) (about disaster preparedness). The elements have often played a strong part in Mendoza's features (Lola (2009), Possession Sapi (2013)), and here they're up front and centre stage as the film looks at the lives of a small cross-section of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (aka Yolanda), one of the strongest ever recorded, that hit the Philippines in Nov 2013.
Mendoza's films have always had a loose, docudram-ish feel, so his approach in Trap comes as little surprise. Characters are casually introduced as if the viewer already knows them, and their backgrounds and relationships have to be pieced together or guessed from small clues. The most affecting is undoubtedly Bebeth, owner of a small eating place, whose charity towards others — despite having lost three of her children — shines through the film like a beacon of hope, largely thanks to the performance by veteran Nora AUNOR (the midwife in Mendoza's Thy Womb Sinapupunan (2012)). Among the rest of the cast, another Mendoza regular, Julio DIAZ (Serbis (2008), Kinatay (2009)) has a more theatrical role as a widower who immerses himself in Way-to-the-Cross, Christ-like suffering to deal with his loss.
With the main roles based on real characters, and actual locals blended into the background, the sense of docudrama is heightened to a point where fiction is hardly separable from fact. But the script itself is thin and shapeless, with little accumulated tension or drama — despite an accumulation of Roman Catholic symbolism in the latter stages that will resonate with audiences in different ways depending on their religious sympathies. Yet again, Mendoza shows he has little ability to create a universally involving narrative or ensemble that goes any deeper than surface events.
Technically the production is sound, with Odyssey FLORES' toned-down photography imparting a verismo feel, especially in the storm sequence that manages much on a minimal budget. Diwa DE LEON's ominous music, all sustained chords, is atmospheric rather than descriptive. The film's Tagalog title literally means Lid or Cover, but also refers in its sound to Tacloban city itself.