By: Oggs Cruz
'Taklub,' a movie about the aftermath of Yolanda, doesn't preach or make spectacles of suffering.
Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub could have easily been about making spectacles out of suffering, but it doesn't take that easy path. Set during the aftermath of Yolanda, the typhoon that turned Tacloban into a miserable tent city, the film could have taken the easiest way around the sensitivities surrounding the calamity by playing the advocacy card.
Taklub could have been preaching about resilience in the midst of tragedy and various other virtues that feel slightly offensive especially coming from someone who has not experienced the tragedies first hand. Thankfully, it does not, or if it does, it does so with quiet nobility.
Mendoza has all the reasons and justifications to make a film that panders to the expectations of a people who desperately need respite from melancholy. Co-produced by the government, Taklub could have gone the route of propaganda, twisting truths to give the government a better position within the context of the calamity.
Thankfully, Taklub is neither a sappy mush nor an implausible advocacy ploy. The film stays away from convenient emotions that one can naturally expect and retains the same gritty style Mendoza utilizes for his urban parables in creating a world of Yolanda survivors who are trapped in what seems to be a perpetual limbo.
Government is close to invisible. It conveys an inutile instrumentality whose bureaucratic mannerisms lend further frustration to the survivors. Mendoza favors truth, even if he peppers his brand of realism with slivers of poetics. What remains is something close to pure, a veritable examination of lives forced into the margins by a mixture of natural and human forces.
Taklub centers on several survivors of Yolanda whose different needs summarize the dissipation of basic humanity in the midst of harsh survival.
Bebeth (Nora Aunor), who maintains a small canteen that services her neighbors, has been patiently dealing with both her ex-husband and the government in matching DNA records with the remains of the thousands who drowned during the typhoon. Larry (Julio Diaz), a pedicab driver who regularly participates in all church activities, begins to question his faith amidst all the suffering. Erwin (Aaron Rivera) does almost everything to provide shelter to what remains of his family.
The screenplay by Honeylyn Joy Alipio pulls away from the obvious and conventional by documenting the characters’ mundane tasks alongside the peculiar crosses they have to carry.
The characters are depicted as humans, with emotions that are but responses to the various impulses that are around them. They are motivated not by conceit but by their instincts. Mendoza does away with depicting them as heroes or victims but as ordinary people placed in a scenario that cannot be prevented.
It is truly a tricky subject to deal with, considering that the characters are all victims worthy of all the positivism that can be mustered. But doing so without the benefit of a rationale is shallow and defeatist. There is no other way but to showcase their faults, their fissures in the face of grief and loss, their invaluable humanity.
The filmmakers’ intentions are of course but a portion of the battle. The rest remains with the actors and actresses who have to withhold comforts and egos to depict the characters with the dignity that they deserve. Considering that the characters are barely grasping the virtues of their former lives, it is up to Aunor, Diaz and Rivera to clothe them with sympathy instead of needless sentimentality.
Taklub succeeds in maintaining a singular vision of projecting an affecting portrait of survival that eschews fabrication for authenticity, notwithstanding the pressures of dealing with governmental funding and actors and actresses who seem to deserve roles that stretch their acting potential.
The film is empowered by its subtlety. Not one element stands out, making its centerpoint, which is the overpowering humanity of those who have survived and are still surviving, the prime subject in the spotlight.
In the end, Taklub aches with palpable pain not because it is such an impressive work of art but because its art is barely noticeable because of its fealty to the truth.