What’s great about art and consuming it is the gift of interpretation, reflection, and (more) research. Whether the art form is profound or not, there’s always something we can learn from it. Now, those learnings and interpretation are still based on how we were brought up, the things that shaped us, and most importantly, the things which we are most exposed to–our family, peers, the things we consume like media, the organizations which we’re a part of. These things form our biases and viewpoints. And it gives birth to our different takes on a particular art form.
My First Review of Mindanao
In January of this year, I wrote a review of Brillante Mendoza’s Mindanao, starring Judy Ann Santos, who plays Saima, a mother of a cancer-stricken child and a wife of a military medic. The film won Best Picture at the 2019 Metro Manila Film Festival, as well as acting awards for Judy Ann Santos and Allen Dizon (who plays Malang, Saima’s husband). Despite its winnings, several people I know from Davao City have criticized the film due to its distorted accounts on Davao’s hospital and the fact that its dramatic scenes were just at par with a primetime melodrama. However, I leave these things at the surface.
I titled my film review, ‘Mindanao,’ a Heartful Melodrama Unworthy of its Title. I thought that the film was too dramatic and relatively shallow. I felt that it was unrepresentative of what Mindanao truly is. I was a hypocrite at best, even though I admitted in the article that I am confused about what’s going on in Mindanao. Here I am, a middle-class person in the comforts and privileges of one of the most progressive urban cities in the Philippines. How can I ever know what’s happening in the wars out there?
Miscalculating Brillante Mendoza
I doubted Brillante Mendoza’s genius. I assumed that he was biased because, as far as I knew, he was pro-Duterte Administration. I thought that he made Mindanao what it is because he didn’t want to disappoint the incumbent president. I discarded the fact that he is a great researcher and that he has told us unique and bewildering stories we never knew existed.
However, the truth is, by the time I published my first ‘Mindanao’ film review, I was already slowly finding out more about certain things about the military and its enemies. But no one, especially someone like me, could and would ever know the truth. Even if I am lucky enough to be able to interpret Mindanao in two different and contrary ways, I could never know what the real issues are because I am not there with the people who are struggling with wars and oppression. But in January of 2020, I decided to take it on the safer, more comfortable, and usual route, the one I have believed in since I was in college.
In the film, Mendoza has shown that Mindanao’s enemies were members of the CPP-NPA. I thought this was very shallow, ‘coz I believed that there could be something more serious than that, like things I have been more curious about–Muslim Vs. Christians, or perhaps the story about the Marawi Seige.
I detested Mendoza for choosing to make members of the CPP-NPA the terrorists in his story and the military as the underrated heroes. I have always thought that both of them are heroes, both victims of their chiefs. And yes, I still believe it now: all members of the Philippine military and CPP-NPA are just pawns of their evil commanders.
And that’s what Mendoza was talking about. He didn’t glorify any leader. There was a scene in the film where all the soldiers who survived were given medals for their service. Malang, Saima’s military medic husband, was awarded a medal, but it makes the audience think that he could’ve stayed with his wife and child than serve the military.
The CPP-NPA Controversy
The CPP-NPA issue wasn’t fully pointed out until this admin’s reign, after passing the Anti-Terror Bill, and in my case, until the film, Mindanao. But despite that, I can’t say that Mendoza was biased. As I’ve said, the film also showcased the disadvantages of being a soldier and how it affects their lives personally. I believe Mendoza’s message is that whatever wars every militant groups and government go through, the ones truly shortchanged, abused–the ones who suffer most are ordinary people, especially those who aren’t as lucky and privileged as us.
Mendoza has stayed bold in telling real stories. Based on several accounts, some civilians’ problems in Mindanao are abusive members of the CPP-NPA. In fact, they were tagged by the EU as a Terrorist group. On November 3, the Red-Tagging issue was put on senate trial, with one ex-member coming out to divulge the group’s atrocities. No opposition member attended the trial; they were only represented by their lawyer.
Mendoza keeps up with his brand of good investigative filmmaking. I apologize for doubting him. I blame my shallow retrospect of his film.
Mindanao was recently on the radar again because it was chosen to be the official entry of the Philippines at the Oscars 2021 as a contender for the final nominations of the Best Foreign Film category. Despite its flaws, I wish it gets through. I also hope it will be available on online streaming platforms for others to see.