Festivals, Reviews

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019: ‘Pagbalik’ – Dull and Unpolished

For the longest time, regional filmmakers have decried imperial Manila’s hegemony in the local film industry. The media focuses heavily on Tagalog-language films, in effect neglecting films in other local languages even if the latter have been important to Philippine cinema since its inception. With the advent of digital filmmaking, however, regional filmmakers have found new ways to make films in an independent manner and bring them to a wider audience. Indeed, in a country as culturally diverse as ours, the regional filmmaking scene demands more attention and support, if only to cater a more proper representation of the various peoples and cultures that comprise our national identity.

This film, unfortunately, is not a good way to do that.

Pagbalik (Return) is a well-intentioned but incredibly flawed first feature from Cebuana director Maria Ranillo, about an OFW who comes home to Cebu after being deported from the United States. It stars Ranillo’s own relatives Suzette and Vince Ranillo as well as veteran actress Gloria Sevilla, as the central family who faces challenges brought about by years of being apart from each other. The artistic decision to have the entire film spoken in Visayan is a commendable move towards regional representation in one of the country’s biggest film festivals, but aside from that, Pagbalik doesn’t have much else to boast of.

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Ranillo’s direction is amateurish, to say the least. It’s clear that there is a message that she wants to impart through the film, in particular the effects of the labor export policy to those who are left behind, but the film never goes beyond mere PSA. Subplots on the lack of proper health care for the elderly and the alarming depression rate among the youth are not incorporated well enough into the film’s central family-oriented story. Ranillo’s immature directorial sensibilities is most noticeable when she sacrifices plot cohesion in lieu of shallow, undeserved tearjerker moments.

The film is also in desperate need of technical polishing. It is edited clumsily and without regard to rhythm and tempo, oftentimes resorting to lazy fade to black transitions in navigating through its sequences. The black and white cinematography is ineffective as well. It misses to artistically incorporate shadows into its lighting, resulting into flat and uninspired frames. Moreover, some scenes have glaring technical issues like over-exposition and white imbalance that may just be small problems but are still distracting enough to take the viewers out of their immersive experience. The sound is also not well-designed; in particular, there is a need for artistic re-evaluation on the overbearing musical score that causes abrupt and confusing tonal shifts.

Overall, Pagbalik felt rushed. Had it been given more time to be put together, Ranillo and her band of filmmakers might have overcome their inexperience in crafting a full-length feature. A bigger budget might have also helped in elevating its technical qualities. But as it currently is, Pagbalik is a dull and uninteresting take on the Philippine diaspora, and an incompetent showcase of Visayan filmmaking.

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