Thop Nazareno’s latest Cinemalaya feature opens with a day in the life of a public hospital doctor. Throughout the shot’s periphery, patients of varying degrees of urgency all sit untreated, and those who are given attention still suffer from medical tool shortage. With the current doctor-patient ratio in the country being 1:33,000, this poignant long take is seamlessly lifted from real life.
The shot ends with Edward, standing beside a friend; both staring pensively at a gunshot victim. There is desperation in their eyes, clueing the audience in. When the patient flatlines mourning was bound to ensue, except our protagonist does the complete opposite—it turns out they bet on whether the patient will survive, and he won.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of romanticizing a story like this, but while the film is sweet, it’s never rose-tinted. Resonance is deepest in the minutiae, and through Edward’s everyday antics around the hospital, truths about the rotten healthcare system are revealed. The film brilliantly balances coming-of-age with social commentary, exposing drastic realities without sacrificing narrative or character work; or resorting to emotional manipulation. It roots its commentary on the small-scale—in one scene, Edward’s recently diagnosed father is taken to the ICU for isolation, only for the camera to pan and reveal, just at the corner of the frame, another bed sharing the room. Nazareno never forgets that this is Edward’s story, and it just happens to be set in a public hospital.
While this is the story of a young, charming boy, it’s a very angry film. Edward’s rite of passage is rushed by his situation, forcing him to grow up and take over the care of his father. The film asks not for your pity, but for your rage, your consciousness. Minors shouldn’t be allowed to take care of patients alone, test results shouldn’t take three weeks to arrive, IV drips shouldn’t be hung in plastic hangers—one single doctor shouldn’t be responsible for 33,000 patients. Edward’s strength lies in its power to critique a macro issue through the interpersonal lens.
While the screenplay is already solid, it’s amplified even more by the charming performances. Louise Abuel is a joy to watch, approaching the lead character with boyish sincerity. His chemistry with onscreen best friend Elijah Canlas carried the entire first act, until The Girl, brought to life by Ella Cruz, comes along.
The plot doesn’t kick off until Cruz’s Agnes is introduced, yet the film spends very little time developing her. Abuel and Cruz play believable young lovers, with the latter’s performance underlined with an angst so recognizably teenaged. But the narrative’s treatment of her character left a sour taste in my mouth. Agnes is the main driving force of Edward’s coming of age—it was only when they met that the boy began to actually take care of his ill parent—but her character felt functionalist and devoid of agency, disappearing in that enigmatic manic pixie dream girl fashion once Edward learned and grew. Despite the shaky character work, however, Cruz does her best to breathe life into the role. Her scenes with Abuel sparkle, and she exudes an ease so representative of her character.
Nevertheless, Edward remains a thoughtfully made snapshot of a boy’s growth. It is unafraid to have fun or to fall hopelessly in love. Edward is allowed the freedom of naivete, his experiences felt in that intense, prepubescent way. Kids, even if it is their trauma that bonds them, are still just kids, after all.