Sigwa: A Review

(I do not even remember for what class I wrote this review of Joel Lamangan’s 2010 film Sigwa.  But it seems my third year in AB English, which I have so far overlooked as simply the year before my SALEM Presidency, was a time of critical growth.  This is hardly surprising as, in a recent ranking by Quacquerelli Symonds, Ateneo de Davao had the 4th Best English and Literature Program in the country. I had a suspicion about it, but it seems I got a really good undergraduate education.
This review has also made me realize that a considerable portion of the reviews and critical analyses I’ve written as an undergraduate student were about films, and I may have been underestimating my film competence. Like the previous archive selections, this review’s formatting has been kept as it appears in the original submitted manuscript.

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David, Karlo Antonio G.

3rd Year AB English

Joel Lamangan’s Sigwa: Artaudian or Brechtian?

Joel Lamangan’s Sigwa begins with Dolly, a Fil-Am returning to the Philippines after almost 40 years. Dolly was a journalist who was sent to cover the student activist movements during the Marcos regime. The story unfolds with many flashbacks, and it is thus that both Dolly’s past and present are revealed: she was caught up in the activist movements and became an activist herself. She was also romantically involved with one student activist, Eddie, with whom she bore a baby. But Eddie, it is later revealed, was a government spy who regretted his double crossing and killed himself out of this regret. Dolly was then among the activists later caught by the government forces, after which she was sent back to the US, leaving her baby in the care of Azon, another student activist. Azon informed her a few years later that the baby died, but she had misgivings about this, and it is revealed that her reason for returning to the Philippines was to confirm her baby’s death. Azon later admits, before expiring, that it was her baby who died and not Dolly’s, and thus her daughter, now a teacher and mother, was actually Dolly’s daughter. Other subplots, such as that of leading student activist Oliver, who was caught early in the Marcos regime, who has since then had a strained relationship with his former comrades and who was now the press Secretary for the Arroyo administration; that of Cita, Oliver’s lover who feels the most contempt for Oliver and now continues to live as a guerilla and Azon, who was raped after escaping with Dolly’s baby; all of these unfold with the aftermath of the Marcos Regime, still haunting the film’s characters as a backdrop.

For a Filipino film, Sigwa is surprisingly realistic to the point of being cruel. The plight of the characters in the past as well as how this past haunts them are all vividly portrayed, and Lamangan does not spare the audience from Artaudian detail. It not only reveals but presents theatrically many social realities and moral dilemmas. For instance, Oliver’s character reveals that of many student activists during the Marcos Regime: idealistic without being realistic. We see all his revolutionary convictions thrown away when he screams that he would reveal everything he knew for his life, and we sympathize with him, we share his dilemma between ideal and life. We see Azon get raped by the not exactly attractive crony, and we somehow feel how easily she could have wavered when they threatened to hurt her daughter.

But it is to be noted that the unrestrained revelation of social realities seen in SIgwa is in fact a tradition of older films of Filipino cinema, films that were not released commercially but as art. Such films include those by Lino Broka, Ismael Bernal and other classic Filipino directors.

Lamangan, then, in revealing what these revered directors revealed is indicating that he is following their footsteps, trying to create his own art film. But while he does succeed in making the viewer think more, the film ultimately fails to take our feelings away from the fictions we have made to be our realities. The film continues to apply contemporary popular media tropes like love stories that dominate the theme, the mother without her child scenario that traces back to Sisa, or the character who serves as the comic relief. Not only are these tropes unlikely in the context of the story, they also tend to distract as from the reality the film is trying to reveal. The film ultimately lacks the Artaudian cruelty we see in, say, Lino Broka’s “Manila: Sa mga Kuko ng Agila.”

Oliver is perhaps the film’s most developed character. From a leading student activist and a passionate lover who never wavered in his devotion we see him become a human who succumbs to his thanatos in the face of death, then into a reformed former activist who now works to rebuild a nation through understanding, but we still get the hint that he is bitter with his past. He is the film’s Byronic hero (though the role is confused with Eddie’s mysterious personality). He and Cita would make the best main characters for the story, for not only are they apart due to personal differences, their difference is allegorical of the dichotomy between Revolutionaries and Constructive “Nation-Builders.” The ending, in fact, would have been better if the two were the main characters: “Who will be the ultimate victor, Oliver or Cita?” would be allegorical of “What will last, Revolution or the Politics of Understanding?”

But that Oliver only serves as a secondary character and that it is Dolly, who is an easy to sympathize with and quite flawless character who is the protagonist yet again reveals how Lamangan is still controlled by popular media tropes. Instead of emphasizing the revolution-peacekeeping dichotomy with Oliver and Cita, he chooses Dolly’s personal drama as the main story. He seems to have not yet decided on whether to be entertainingly revealing (that is to say, Lacanian jouissance, as it would be had the theme’s dilemma been the central focus) or revealingly entertaining (as it already is, in which the theme is just casually revealed, for Dolly’s drama is the main story). For the film to be truly artistic in nature, the viewer should be entertained by his understanding of the film’s theme, not by the personal yet highly unlikely drama of Dolly, which has nothing to do with his (the viewer’s) life.

Ultimately, though the film’s unnatural and didactic dialogue ruins the Artaudian-realist effect the revelation of social realities creates. In one scene, we see Azon being raped by the not exactly attractive crony and we shudder at the realism, in another we hear Zsa Zsa Padilla speaking with flawless Filipino grammar about her past while trekking in the mountains with comrades and we are alienated from the realism. Lamangan is not yet decided on whether to be Artaudian or to be Brechtian. This, in fact, is the film’s biggest flaw.


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