Doña Atang (Anita Linda) is turning 100 years old. Her one wish: to celebrate it with the people she worked with in her earlier years of producing films, a task her aspiring filmmaker grandson (Enchong Dee) has taken the liberty of granting. As his quest to find members to populate the party begins, so does the family drama between the celebrant’s returning children; not to mention the increasingly deteriorating state of the woman they are all there for. Meant to be a celebration of 100 years of Philippine Cinema, Circa is a quiet tale that says so much more.
To be frank, I was ready to leave the cinema within the first hour of the film. Nothing impressed me enough to stay – not the awkward editing, dry acting, stagnant plot, not even the large roster of stars that illuminated every second of the film – nor did I have any hope that its dreary tone would bear anything more than what was already told. If it wasn’t for the cinematography and the mesmerizing performance by Anita Linda (this film being my first experience of her work), I believe I may have just stood and left.
I am so glad I didn’t. The following night, I found myself sobbing over Circa.
Despite a seemingly uneventful initial viewing of the film, Circa successfully burrowed its way deep into the back of my mind and I could not stop thinking about it. What I thought were ruminations on how bad I thought the movie was were, in fact, merely the surface level emotions resulting from my lack of immediate understanding of the piece. I attribute this to the usual experience of cinema that tend to elicit emotions as we watch them: the likes of Avengers: Endgame, Toy Story 3, and A Beautiful Life have mastered this technique. Yet some take the risk of restraining itself to near ambiguity, leaving the cathartic realization to the viewer when they least expect it that usually happens only after some time. This Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino Sandaan Showcase was one of the latter – a rare treat by Director Adolfo Alix Borinaga Jr., in that sense.
As hours passed, layers of metaphor started to reveal themselves in whispers. Doña Atang’s age traps her, as her reels are trapped in their aged, rotting film rolls. Empty as the prison of the home and basement may be, it is alive with creatures either supernatural or fleetingly human as her children and house help are. Then the lingering question as to whether or not to reminisce – do we force to relive a beautiful memory at the risk of comparing it to now, what it is not and can never be anymore?
And I am breathless and devastated by my (and only one possible) conclusion: it is not as much an ode to the golden era of Philippine Film as it is a warning to what might be if we lose it. Or when, depending on what we do about it now.
Overall, Circa was an averagely made film in itself that served as a mere channel that holds the potential for profound reflections. If I may be granted the liberty of utilizing a metaphor myself: Circa was but the metal case around a reel of film – rusting and, overall, not exactly beautiful to look at – yet held precious meters’ worth of film within, or what can be compared to the endless possibilities of meanings to viewers. What that meaning is, however, is entirely up to the level one chooses to delve into after absorbing the piece. Based on personal experience, stay seated in that cinema, later, go as deep as you can possibly bear.