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Hum 3: Film Principles
Fr. Rene C. Ocampo, SJ/Bong S. Eliab
Second Semester, 2001-2002
Humanities Division
School of Arts and Sciences
Ateneo de Davao University


Syllabus | Notes | Examinations | Papers | Bulletin Boards | Grades

[From Mindanao 1081 Discussion Group - mindanao1081@yahoogroups.com]

REVIEW: Bagong Buwan, Unang Buwan
By Danilo A. Balucos/MindaNews

Had the cinema's ticket booth placed a notice that it was Standing Room Only (SRO), I would have waited for another day before watching "Bagong Buwan," the highly acclaimed movie by award-winning filmmaker Marilou Diaz-Abaya.  

Drained from an almost sleepless Christmas Eve, I was standing at the back of the theater, trying to stay awake and keenly watch the film about the Bangsamoro's life journey. Some were luckier than I was to find a space to sit on, along the aisles.

But I must have fallen asleep, for I suddenly found myself wondering where Francis, the Christian boy who eventually became a friend of a Muslim mujahideen, came from. How did a kid from Quezon City get into the Bangsamoro, which was under siege?

Puzzled, I shifted my attention to the audience.  There were a few Muslims among us, based on their conversations shortly before the film began. But probably, 98 to 99% were Christians. No wonder then that the Arabic chanting at the start of the film elicited laughter, not only from the

children but even from their parents who were supposed to provide guidance for those who were 13 years old and below. And they laughed even more when a close up shot revealed that the Imam preaching at a mosque was the same actor playing an old man on his second childhood in a top-rating telenovela!

These are roots of the Mindanao problem, I said to myself.   Not only lack of knowledge on the culture of the now-minority Muslims but also unwillingness to learn and appreciate or to just even know the culture and belief of others.

With this kind of long-held attitude, would this much-hyped film help make a change?  I  wondered. 

But the "where did you come from, kid" delivered well, connecting to the bias-coated hearts of children and adults. As he went along with his adventure, he shot questions to his newfound companions; questions that were innocent, questions that were basic, questions that were pure.

Questions that most Christian adults would not dare ask. Like when Francis asked something to this effect: "Masama daw kayo kasi hindi kayo naniniwala kay Jesus at Mama Mary" (You're bad because you don't believe in Jesus and Mother Mary). Or his question to Babu, the mother whose sons found different expressions of their love for their people and homeland,  "Bakit palagi kayong binobomba?" (Why are you always being bombed?).

Slowly, the giggles at Islamic practices faded, as the audience started to relate to the travails of the innocent people, no longer innocent Muslims, caught between the crossfire of Muslim mujahideens and government troops.

The funeral rites may be strange but the audience respected the poignant scenes where Muslims clearly declared their unwavering faith in Allah to take care of both the living and the departed.

But when Datu Ali, played by Ronnie Lazaro who bagged the Best Supporting Actor Award, spat something he was chewing into a small container while playing chess with a Catholic peace worker, many said "Yucks!"

There they go again, I said. But that's after I whispered "Ngee!"

I plead guilty, no excuse for one with a little experience working with Muslims. 

Nobody said "Yucks!" and I did not say "Ngee!" when a young marine lieutenant stepped on a "sacred mat" with his very dirty boots, while the Muslim hosts were barefoot or wearing socks.

Though most of us openly say we don't have biases against Muslims, we may still have some deep-seated subconscious biases that would reveal themselves in most unexpected moments.  While we say that Muslims can be good friends, that they can be good business partners, there's part of us whispering they are generally traitors; that they can't be trusted, and so on and so forth.

Some critics say there is still a big room for improvement for Bagong Buwan, both in substance and technical aspects, to make it truly reflective of the plight of our Muslim brothers and sisters.  Nevertheless, to me, it was simply excellent; the first of its kind to present the senseless Mindanao war in a good perspective.

It's turning out to be a box-office hit in a country where majority have anti-Muslim sentiments.  Maybe they, or we (I, included) have finally realized that our biases are baseless. Or maybe many are anti-Muslims but pro-Cesar Montano.

Which brings me to a point of strategy or tactic.  If only to reach to the widest audience possible, filmmakers may consider engaging the services of bankable stars like Montano. A little girl may be afraid of Muslims, but she would be delighted to see a Jolina Magdangal or Serena Dalrymple playing a Muslim princess in a telenovela.

 This is not to "commercialize" the portrayal of the Bangsamoro's life. But it is to popularize the advocacy of harmony in diversity in our island of Mindanao.  For the highest level of deep-seated biases are in the masses. And film is still the most powerful medium to reach them.

 We need more films like Bagong Buwan to show the real picture of Mindanao. We need more films not only on Muslims and Christian settlers but also on the equally challenging and colorful journey of the Lumads (indigenous peoples). Erasing long-held biases is a process and it cannot be done with the blink of an eye.

 "Bagong Buwan" is not just a new moon that will hopefully illuminate our hearts and minds to see the oneness of Mindanawons, the oneness of Filipinos, and the oneness of peoples in the world. It is actually Unang Buwan, the first moon; a trailblazer for others to follow.

 The path towards a lasting peace in Mindanao is long and winding. But with people who are committed to use their influence for good, the peace will soon be ours to keep.

 Insha Allah. (Danilo A. Balucos/MindaNews)

 

 REVIEW II: BAGONG BUWAN: Clouds over the new moon
By Gutierrez Mangansakan II

 People who eagerly anticipate the sighting of the new moon are sometimes frustrated when unexpected dark clouds loom over it.

 This is the case with Marilou Diaz-Abaya's new film, Bagong Buwan. My anxieties over this highly controversial movie on the Bangsamoro problem are not without basis - artistically and politically - drawing out mixed reactions. It came to me as no surprise when the film didn't get the jury's

nod in the 2001 Metro Manila Film Festival. Conspiracy theorists would speculate that there could have been an outside force, a military hand to prevent the filmmakers from getting the top honors. 

 Bagong Buwan, essentially, is a problematic film: from the tacky dialogues, over-the-top production design (the designer might have read so many coffeetable books!), hysterical acting, to historical inaccuracies. 

 Datu Ali tells the character of Jericho Rosales that Sultan Kudarat was the first to rise against the Spaniards. Truth is, even his father, Kapitan Laut Buisan, and his ancestors fought the Spaniards. 

 The film points out the disparity between Christians and Muslims as the problem. What it failed to resolve is that it is the government and its policies that the Bangsamoro people confront. 

 'Sino ba talaga ang kalaban ng mga Moro?' It is not the Christians for sure.

 Although credit should be given to Abaya for her optimism in bringing peace to Mindanao, it cannot be ignored that a peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict could only come when its fundamental causes have been rooted out. These causes have cultural and historical beginnings.

(Gutierrez Mangansakan II/MindaNews)

 

 REVIEW III: Bagong Buwan From Muslim Eyes
By  Maulana R. M. Alonto

In the past, several Filipino movies had been produced with the war in Mindanao as the setting. The four-century old conflict in the south undoubtedly provides good plots for movies that cater to the taste of the Filipino audience for action pictures.

 Invariably, Filipino movies on Mindanao treat the Moros just like American pictures treat the Indians in western movies where you have cowboys versus the "savage" Indians fighting it out. The cowboys always come out the winners.

 In the contemporary Mindanao setting, the story always revolves around a "Florante and Laura" kind of plot embellished by lots of pyrotechnics. The audience is thrilled not only by the action and the gore, but also by the exotic movie plot that pits a Christian soldier and a Moro "rebel" both in the battlefield and in the contest for a woman's love, usually also a Moro maiden.

 Even Joseph Estrada who declared all-out war against the Bangsamoro Muslims when he was president starred in one such action picture in the late 1970's where he played the role of a "Muslim rebel" with another macho action star, Vic Vargas, who was cast as an officer of the AFP assigned in Mindanao. Both Estrada and Vargas, who were childhood friends before they parted ways, vied for the affection of the local lass. Though Estrada the "Muslim rebel" won the heart of the maiden, Vargas eventually won the battle against the "Muslim rebels," who laid down their arms and returned to the "ways of peace." This is a more significant victory for the members of the Board of Censors than gaining the love of a Moro maiden.

 Movies of this genre are hollow in that they fail to convey an authentic picture of what is happening in Mindanao. In the guise of entertainment they become mere state propaganda against the Muslims and their struggle for freedom. The aim of such movies is not only to obfuscate the real cause behind the Moro Muslim armed struggle but also to earn at the box office. Thus, their commercial success, other than their propaganda value, takes precedence over authenticity and truth. Such movies contribute further to the ignorance and therefore reinforce the anti-Muslim bias of people far removed from the conflict in Mindanao.

 "Bagong Buwan," the most recent movie of this genre, has, however, radically departed from the usual stereotypes being churned out by the Philippine movie industry. It is the story of a Moro Muslim family caught in the tragedy (or so as the movie tries to project) of the all-out-war of

Estrada against the MILF and the Bangsamoro people. The movie attempts to narrate the sad story of this family from the very lips and experiences of the very members of the family themselves and some of the refugees. And this is what enables the movie to emote an aura of authenticity as well as generate sympathy.

 The movie, though, is not without flaws, if these are, indeed, flaws. There are dialogues between and among the major characters that raise more questions left unanswered. This, I think, was deliberately crafted by the movie scriptwriters and the director not only to suggest neutrality but also to cushion the psychological impact of the movie's theme on the viewers, especially the non-Muslim viewers who may develop a dislike for the seemingly "pro-Muslim" bent of the picture. This is also intended perhaps to be thought-provoking, to impel the viewers to ask the same questions subtly raised in the movie and search for the answers themselves.

 The main character of the movie, Ahmad, portrayed by Cesar Montano, is a pacifist doctor whose elder brother, Musa, is a military commander of the MILF. In the first scene of verbal encounter between Ahmad and Musa, the latter castigates the former for practicing his profession in Manila whereas his services are more needed by his people in his war-torn homeland. In the course of their argument, Ahmad insists that he is not a fighter but a medical doctor whose mission is to save lives, not to carry a gun and kill. In his response to Musa's scathing remark that he has abandoned the Bangsamoros by staying away, Ahmad hits back at Musa and accuses his brother of harboring envy for the Christians because he (Musa) is unable to do what the Christians want to do without resorting to arms.

 The character Ahmad typifies many Muslims who are in a state of confusion and are, therefore, largely indifferent to the colonial war in Mindanao, which has victimized the Muslims for almost five centuries now. To accuse Musa, a mujahid, of jealousy towards the Christians and to imply that this is his reason for waging jihad betrays this confused state of mind and an ignorance of the real meaning of jihad. The Moro mujahid bears arms not because he hates the Christians out of envy, but because he would like to be free of the colonialism that has invaded his homeland, curtailed Islam as a complete way of life and has kept the Bangsamoro people in bondage to an alien kafir government.

 Envy arises out of that desire to imitate. But when the imitator is unable to imitate, envy turns into hatred and hostility. The Moro Muslim does not want to imitate the Filipino Christian and so envy for the latter just because he could not be like him is out of the question.

 Simply put, the Bangsamoro mujahid is never envious of the Christian Filipino.  Islam provides the paradigm for the Muslim, which is the anti-thesis of what the jahili Filipino stands for. Thus, the very reason why the Moro Muslim is waging jihad is precisely to avoid ending up like the Filipino and to liberate himself from that colonial situation wherein he is forced to think and act Filipino. Therefore, Ahmad's argument against Musa's involvement in armed jihad is a fallacy, and that should have emanated from a Filipino Christian mind, not a Muslim's.

 Another scene in the movie does not project the correct perspective on jihad. This is the scene where Musa and his son plant a bomb on a stall near a police station located right in a public market where there are many Muslims and innocent people milling around. The bomb blast kills several people, including a woman identified to be a Muslim because of her hijab. No mujahid would have done this, especially when he knows that he would be harming innocent people including Muslims. This is one scene in the movie that suggests that the makers of the film could not make the distinction between jihad and plain terrorism.

 The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which the characters Musa and his son Rashid are identified with in the movie, strictly prohibits acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Perhaps after having realized this contradiction, the makers of the film tried to make up for the error in another scene where Rashid in effect says that the MILF is not like those engaged in banditry, kidnapping and senseless violence, apparently alluding to the Abu Sayyaf. 

 The movie also failed to clarify some controversial religious issues between Islam and Christianity. There is this scene where the Christian boy, Francis, is having an altercation with the teen-age Muslim hothead, Rashid, son of the mujahid Musa. Rashid, who does not hide his bias against Christians, insults Francis for being a coward, to which the Christian boy retorts by saying that Rashid would go to hell for not believing in Jesus and Mary. The scene, however, did not allow Rashid to make a proper answer though later in the film he was able to rectify his un-Islamic behavior toward Francis.

 Muslims do believe in Jesus and Mary, and they would not be Muslims if they do not do so though not in the same religious perspective that the Christians have of the two. In fact, one whole chapter of the Holy Qur'an, Surah Mariam, is devoted to Virgin Mary or Mariam as the Muslims address the mother of Jesus. Mariam is extolled by Muslims as one of the great women of Islam. Needless to say, Jesus is himself also one of the major prophets of Islam who immediately preceded Muhammad, the last and final prophet, peace be upon them all. So it would be incorrect to claim that Muslims do not believe in Jesus and Mary. It would be more proper to say categorically that Muslims do not believe Jesus to be son of God and Mary the mother of God! And that should have been Rashid's response to Francis.

 Then there is this character called Jason, a former sacristan turned peace worker, who became a part of the group of Moro refugees that included Ahmad and his family. There is more to the role of the Jason character than in simply providing comic relief to an otherwise heavy drama. Together with the boy Francis and the Christian wife of a mujahid, Jason not only represents the Christian element in a scenario that shows both Muslims and Christians undergoing the same sufferings in a war situation, but he also acts as the mouthpiece of the movie producers who want get across their message of peace to the audience. Francis, on the other hand, speaks for the Christian whose "childish" ignorance of Islam, the Muslims and what the Muslims are fighting for accounts for the existing prejudices and misconception that had developed in the Filipino psyche.

 In serious moments in the picture, Jason echoes the longing for peace and the audience can easily empathize with this after being treated to scenes of violence and the tragedies resulting thereof. But what Jason failed to transmit is the kind of peace that he wished for. Peace in the absence of conflict does not necessarily mean real peace. Such peace could also be the silence of the graveyard or the muted lips of the slaves. Peace, in order for it to be meaningful and therefore real, has to be based on justice. And in the context of the Mindanao war, just peace is achievable if the root cause of the conflict, which is Philippine colonialism in the Bangsamoro homeland, is eliminated and the Bangsamoro people's right to self-determination, freedom and independence is restored.

 One of the most powerful characters in the movie is that of Faridah, mother of Ahmad and Musa, played by Caridad Sanchez. Faridah, so much unlike her son Ahmad, refuses to abandon her homeland for the security and comforts of Manila. In her narrative, Faridah tells Jason, the Christian boy, how in her youth she had also been running away from bombs falling from the sky and until now in her old age, she is still running away from the bombs being dropped on her village. Faridah must have been relating about the war in the 70s when the MNLF led the Bangsamoro struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

 That the war continued up to her old age, this time in this new century, when the MILF has taken over as vanguard of the Bangsamoro jihad, is obviously made clear to the audience. The point being driven at here is that the conflict in Mindanao has been going on now for generations with no end in sight for its resolution. And Faridah belongs to that generation of Bangsamoros who was born in war and will die in the war, just as she did in the movie. Her role pays tribute to the Bangsamoro women whose strong Islamic faith has engendered the courage, the will and the hope that made them surmount the travails of war.

 Another impressive character in the movie is that of Datu Ali. The latter's sense of history and good grasp of the contemporary Muslim situation around the world makes up for the absence of an alim or a Muslim scholar in the movie. Through him, the audience gets to have a quick glimpse of Moro history and, in one big surprise, a reenactment of the ritual of parang sabil, the act of shahadah in jihad, when a Muslim faces the enemies of Islam in battle and then embraces martyrdom in the process. This was known to the Spaniards, Americans and the Filipinos as "juramentado." Today, the Muslim who willingly becomes a shaheed is disparagingly called a "terrorist suicide bomber."

 Fatimah, the wife of Ahmad, played by Amy Austria, is another character of strength. Having lost her son to murderous vigilantes does not deter her from performing her duties as a nurse attending to the medical health of the people. In one poignant scene with her husband Ahmad, she refuses the offer of the latter to go with him to Manila. Instead she persuades him to stay in the homeland where they could save the lives of "many Ibrahims," in reference to their only son who died.

 In another scene when both she and Ahmad are ministering to one of the characters who is giving birth, her emotionally drained husband just falls apart and refuses to continue attending to the pregnant woman. Fatimah takes over from Ahmad who is cowering in the corner, and successfully delivers the baby. It was this strength she exuded that helped her husband overcome the enormous strains and stresses caused by the war.

 Nonetheless, though initially weak and confused, Ahmad himself undergoes some transformation in the movie. The horrors and tragedies of war can alter a man's state of mind, and this is what happened to Ahmad. Forced to kill two Filipino soldiers who desecrated a mosque, Ahmad develops a conflict within himself -- a conflict between Ahmad the doctor-pacifist and Ahmad the Moro whose son was killed by pro-government vigilantes and whose mother died as a refugee in the forest.

 In the end, Ahmad was never able to finally resolve this conflict inside him. Unlike Ernesto "Che" Guevarra, the Argentine doctor turned revolutionary who dropped his medical kit and chose the rifle in the Cuban jungle, Ahmad, even when he was holding the M-16 underneath a tree while a battle raged around him, was smitten by doubts and remorse. He never decided to become a mujahid like his brother Musa, though in one scene he quotes from the Qur'an and saves the life of the wounded Filipino lieutenant who was about to be shot by Musa. At this particular instance, he acts in a chivalrous manner just as a true mujahid would have done under the same circumstance.

 The viewer would not really know how Ahmad would have ended up if he survived the ordeal in the forest. He died before he could make up his mind. One good thing about Ahmad's death is that he was able to utter "astagfirullah" before life ebbed out of him, which is an explicit act of repentance on his part.  At any rate, the movie as a whole is good. It gives a vivid and graphic description of what the Muslims are going through in this war in Mindanao. It also educates both Muslims and non-Muslims on certain aspects of Islam and the history and culture of the Bangsamoro people. It shows the strong attachment of the Bangsamoro masses, in contrast with the Moro westernized elite, to Islam. On top of that, it gives a just presentation of the Islamic cause that the Bangsamoro people are fighting for.

 Never before has a movie of this genre gone to such length to depict a more authentic and fair rendition of the conflict in Mindanao. No wonder it never had the chance of winning the Best Picture Award in the Manila Film Festival. The military and reactionary government officials would not have allowed it.

 It is ironical that it is from the Christian producers and actors of "Bagong Buwan" that many Muslims would learn of many things about themselves, their Islamic faith and their homeland. This makes the movie worth watching. (Maulana R. M. Alonto is the editor of the Mindanao Crescent, a weekly paper published in Cotabato City and Director for Research of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies.)

 

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All Rights Reserved 2001
Ateneo de Davao University
05 January 2002