Festivals, Reviews

QCinema 2019: ‘Spring by the Sea’ – A Heartwarming Seat in the Family Table

The cliché quote of “home is where the heart is” often circulates my head when I skim loglines of films about families. Most of the time stories of families revolve around conflict and power dynamics so it’s sometimes refreshing to be reminded that it is what it is supposed to be: a healthy, supportive place full of love.

In Aleia Garcia’s Spring by the Sea, we open to a homemade video of a family dinner party. It is their mother’s birthday: all the children and father, pray over the neatly placed pancit and thank mother. Mother holds the camera over her family, occasionally shaking because of moments of disarray and emotion.

This is the Garcia family. A story alternating between the Philippines and Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. The 12 siblings had grown in-between two countries, finding a constant state of displacement and identity during the journey itself. In Yanbu, a city near the Red Sea: the roads are wide, the skies seem endless, and the waters of the Red Sea are still in its glistening beauty.

Here, the Garcia family tries to replicate a home amongst themselves.

Gorgeously shot and edited with slices of family photos and her parents’ documentation of them growing up in-between, this is a clear cycle of a family lovingly passing on and capturing moments onward. Much of the film spends its time moving in airports and the wide roads of Yanbu. All throughout, we get a sense of home in those small gestures and smiles after being separated for an indefinite amount of time.

In the Philippines, there’s a sense of distance between the siblings compared to being in Yanbu where the Garcias find something to fill those spaces with. When home is out of reach, they create it and fill it with their love. It’s clear by the inside jokes, the way the parents document the moments in between as children. Their father and siblings themselves talk about how being in Yanbu helps them grow closer, having no one else to lean into but each other compared to how scattered they are back in the Philippines.

Their father talks about the difficulties of being away from his family in the early years of working as an OFW—even saying “OFW” seems difficult as he mentions that the term is unique as a Filipino (expats is a common term for foreign workers). Similarly, their mother talks about the difficulties of those early years, marrying young and watching her husband leave and all the while having to carry a child (an occurrence that has borne 12 children in total) but she persists and in one point smiles warmly at the camera and sincerely tells us she is happy. Everyone is together.

Yet, in a huge family like this, there’s a struggle in finding a place amongst themselves yet the siblings share a banter of humor and irritation while occasionally finding voice in the honesty of leaving and going home and bearing the responsibilities of looking out for one another. It’s entertaining and intimate, occasionally sassing with the camera. There’s a sense of belonging within and you never find yourself alienated, not once.

For Aleia, it seems she has inherited her parents’ love in capturing the moments that matter and are worth passing on. This is clear by its execution and editing. There’s a place for Aleia in the family but there’s also the drive to fixate it in the extension of a camera to tell the world of who she is. It’s clear when she films her parents through the mirror and all we can see of her face are the lens. This is a love and thank-you letter to her family and a humble start towards a promising career. I will definitely look out for Aleia’s future works.

Spring by the Sea offers nothing new, but it welcomes us in the Garcia home. There’s a seat across from them, sure to welcome you with sincere honesty and heart. Ultimately, I think it’s what we need now. 

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