Sandalang Bahay (Tagalog, English subtitles on the way) is a sumptuously filmed and elegaic family tragedy that is essentially Filipino yet draws on broader, especially European, film-making trends.
The story of three sisters begins and ends in the capiz-shuttered family home by the beach in the province. At the beginning of the film, the happy innocence of the girls and their friend Alex is overshadowed by storms in the adult world, yet the dreamy filming and the superb and unaffected “acting” of the kids create a nostalgic atmosphere that is retained throughout the film. Essentially this is a story of remembering, of returning to and perhaps resolving a lost past. From the beach house we are pitched forward 30 years to the sisters and mother as they are today, scars and all. The basically circular plot then takes us back to the house to, literally, bury the past.
It is a beautifully made film, particularly in the way producer Denisa Reyes skillfully uses music to create an emotional canvas for the visual image. The soundtrack includes Erik Satie, Puccini and contemporary Pinoy rock (which is particularly effective in a rockin’ sequence as the sisters leave Manila at the beginning of their road trip). Sandalang Bahay has a sure sense of place and manages to bring out the familiar motifs of provincial Philippine life—tricycles, bankas, aggressive jeepney drivers, the omnipresent sea—in an affectionate and affecting way. The camerawork and cinematography by Mark Gary and Miguel Fabie is artistically done, without ever being fussy. A shot of the banka bearing the coffin as the wind lightly ruffles the water was particularly memorable. The story moves along at a snappy pace and is never predictable. And, hey, no overacting! Great.
I could go on, but I guess you get the picture. Sandalang Bahay is a wonderful film! I think you'd like it (next showing is at UP on 4 August, 5pm). I hope it gets shown at foreign festivals too, especially in Europe, where its artistic sensibility, exotic feel and dark humour would go down really well. Everyone involved can feel really proud of what they have achieved.