By: Vic Sevilla
"A time to tear down... and a time to build," it says so in the book of Ecclesiastes. But while the process of destruction can happen just seconds after a super typhoon makes landfall, the same cannot be said of the act of rebuilding. Picking up the pieces of one's life in the aftermath of a catastrophe can be a slow and agonizing process of suffering. For how does one stand up and continue after such an overwhelming loss-of lives, of loves, of livelihood?
"Taklub", director Brillante Ma Mendoza's latest opus, offers no answers. Hailed by critics abroad when it made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Mendoza appears to have stood on the sidelines with camera in hand to record the goings on in a district in Tacloban hard hit by Yolanda. Coldly, without sympathy, without offering relief, he recorded the everyday lives of people trying to forget the horrors of destruction but who are forced to look back as they try to find answers for their loss.
For Hollywood directors who have the luxury of money, Yolanda's wrath could have been easily essayed on screen using expensive cameras, the latest lighting equipment, and meticulously crafted CGI. As is his custom, Mendoza strayed far from formula by giving "Taklub" the gritty texture and feel of a documentary film expressed in jerky camera movements, extreme close ups, lingering shots and lighting contrasts that show the harsh combination of light and shadow. It was as if Mendoza wanted to shoot the phantoms of fear and the ghosts of loneliness lurking in the hearts of his characters. Clearly, the director is more concerned with the storm raging from within.
To achieve this end, Mendoza also had to make use of a cast that understood his style and his intent. He chose his actors wisely-those who had the ability to be the characters they portray. Aaron Rivera deftly portrayed Erwin, a young man forced to become the head of his family after Yolanda took the lives of his parents. Amid the destruction, Erwin must take care of a young sister and a mute older brother. Lou Veloso as Renato gives a touching performance as a man consumed by grief and bitterness after he lost everyone in his family. Julio Diaz's portrayal of Larry is, perhaps, the most physical. Failing to save a few of his children in the storm surge and perhaps to assuage the guilt, Larry took to carrying a wooden cross through the streets. His anxious portrayal as a man on the verge of madness is heart wrenching to watch.
To say that Nora Aunor is an actress of outstanding skill is a disservice to her talent. As Bebeth, Aunor made use of her vast experience and her knowledge of Mendoza's style of filmmaking. As she tries to bring everything back to a sense of normalcy, Bebeth must grapple with a mother's grief that comes with the loss of her three children. Upon realizing that none of the remains of her offspring were buried in the mass grave where she religiously offers lighted candles, she explodes in understandable rage but turns her back defeated. Watching Aunor's portrayal of pain is akin to witnessing a storm's wrath: it is powerful, yet painful to behold.
In the end, after the last scene faded into black, you feel the need to suppress applause. Instead, an offering of silence for the dead and for those who must live through their sorrow seemed somehow more appropriate... like a show of sympathy or an unspoken prayer. That is the beauty of "Taklub"-by recreating the grief of loss without passing judgment, it gives viewers a sense of compassion for a community that continues to writhe in pain and loneliness.