Festivals, Reviews

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2019: ‘Lola Igna’ – The Tolerable Weight of Living

At first glance, Eduardo W. Roy Jr.’s Lola Igna looks like one those feel good family films that gives us insight on what it’s like to be old—a glimpse of the life we’re headed towards. The trailer was inviting and hilarious as Angie Ferro’s Lola Igna ruefully wakes up to a crowd of young spectators eager to document their experience of meeting what could be the world’s oldest living person. 

What I initially thought after seeing the trailer provided more of an examination upon actually experiencing the film. Our introduction to Lola Igna starts with decomposition. Lola Igna sleeps, almost in a state of death, as flies hover all over her form. There is a moment of stillness as we wait for her to come through, as if she’s struggling towards us in her dream. Then she wakes—to our relief—and starts her day.

Ferro plays Igna with magnetic charm and sorrow that even in her quiet acts of peeing in an arinola, a weariness is exuded. The flies accompany her in her routine, in her home and in her dinner table where a photo of her late husband Carias sits to eat with her. It is only in her table that she breaks the momentary bubble of weariness as she invites Carias to eat along with her.

Her granddaughter Nida, played by Maria Isabel Lopez, comes over to fetch her and helps her dress for the day. They are to present themselves in the mayor’s office as the whole town is interested in submitting her for the title of the ‘World’s Oldest Living Grandmother’. Everyone’s oddly excessive enthusiasm for what seems to be a mere title turns out to be fuelled by ulterior motives as the mayor reveals a monetary sum of prizes upon being awarded. Igna sits towards the whole ordeal, submitting herself to the whims of a crowd descending upon her like vultures, eager for a photo. This sudden spotlight and instant celebrity status don’t help her well as she now must deal with the influx of tourists and strangers visiting her daily, disrupting her quiet routine.

Lola Igna is more than a contemplation of a woman who’s outstretched her own life and time. This is a woman grieving and waiting in cycles as life itself has started to leave her behind. It is an examination of mortality and the path towards it. For Igna, whose friends, children, and husband has passed; a retired midwife who had delivered most of the townspeople; who’s watched her great-grandchildren part ways, there is palpable exhaustion in having to bear witness to the whole spectacle. Everyone is stretching out the end of her days while she bears the brunt of it. 

Time, it seems, is the only constant antagonist of the film as it continuously leaves her behind. It isn’t until Tim (Yves Flores) does she warm up and start to unravel. Tim introduces himself as her great-great-grandson. An aspiring vlogger, he wants to document Igna for his YouTube dreams, to which the older woman agrees to enthusiastically. Tim’s mother Ana (Meryll Soriano), to Nida’s disappointment, has long since left their town for greener pastures. This caused an irreparable drift in the family. 

Yves and Angie’s chemistry is sweet, at times able to tease and find comfort in each other as the familial connection seeps in. The intergenerational difference is occasionally weaved in as Tim tries to understand Igna’s desire to succumb to death. And Igna finds a companion in her lonely life; something worth waking up to again. 

But it is Tim’s discontentment with his lonely life that leads him into the arms of Igna. It is a cycle of the same life, watching the misery unfold unable to do anything about it but bear witness, eager to run away from its hold and find home into someone or something else. For Tim and Igna, finding each other is a discovery of life repeating itself unto another and finding solid ground with the help of another.

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While the film starts off poignantly, in its almost 2-hour run it occasionally falls into uneven pacing. It highlights both relatives’ relationship, but it fails to give insight and depth to Nida and Ana’s relationship. We are told that Ana’s departure was something Nida could never forgive but we are not given enough to really know them as characters. It’s almost like a short glimpse before we are shifted back into Igna and Tim’s frames. But it is worth nothing that it is Igna and Tim’s relationship that patches the rift between the two sisters.

Many a time, the departed themselves come to greet Igna but their grave sad faces only signify that it isn’t her time yet. The idea of pagsusundo for Igna feels more like Death passing by for a quick “hello” before moving on to another of her close friends or relatives. Igna, who has now refused to resume her midwife duties, insists that it is this occupation of delivering lives that has kept her from receiving Death itself. And as she delivers the first baby—her great great grandchild—after a long time, there’s a sense of doom in it. We watch grief sink in the family one last time as they revel in the small joy it has brought them. 

But there’s still some form of joy in old routines, joy in preparing for the end, and joy in discoveries. A joy brought by the love of companionship itself. Despite this, the film also holds us accountable to its despair; the responsibility to look after those left behind. It doesn’t make it feel like a burden, but as Igna stares at us with those grieving eyes one is left to contemplate on its weight—the weight and responsibility of living.

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