The Sea of Love in Lamberto Avellana’s Badjao (1957) September 22, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Directed by Lamberto Avellana
Written by Rolf Bayer
Cast: Rosa Rosal, Tony Santos, Vic Silayan, Joseph de Cordova, Leroy Salvador
The way it presents the hostility of the Tausog to its neighboring tribe, I am not sure whether Badjao is an accurate depiction of the lives of our ethnic groups during their times. The story focuses on how the son of the Badjao chief, Hassan, proves his love against all odds to Bala Amai, who incidentally is the niece of the Tausog leader, Datu Tahil. The Tausogs and the Badjaos are shown as rival communities, the former a Muslim and the latter a pagan, whose set of values adheres strictly to what their ancestors have passed on to them. The Badjaos live on the water – – constructing wooden houses by the sea, bridges, and boats made of huge leaves to help them get by to their everyday struggle for food, as well as making a living by diving for pearls. They are generally nomadic, moving from one place to another where the good weather takes them, as it determines their chance for survival. Rituals are also observed, like the initiation of throwing a newborn baby to the sea before being an official member of the tribe. Such membership to the group is an essential part of the tradition – – fellowship remains their selfless reward to each other.
That’s why when Hassan decides to marry Bala Amai and agrees to be converted to a Tausog, his father and the entire Badjao community turn their backs on him – – blood is not really thicker than water but loyalty and fraternity – – but Hassan is gallant enough to stand by his decision, his strength is ultimately tested, his love for Bala Amai challenged up to the very end. Living happily in their small home near the sea, Datu Tahil orders him to dive for more pearls in the Badjao territory. The couple is now content with their simple life so they refuse, causing Datu Tahil to plot his evil plan – – burn their house! they will crawl their way here, asking for forgiveness! – – only to be admonished, in perhaps the most beautiful scene of the film, Hassan, in all his handsome virility shakes the datu’s unfair virtues, speaks of the milk of human kindness, and narrates the pain he had to go through despite his tribal members disowning him. Tony Santos is the real star of this film, such a lovely icon who deserves to be remembered in all his humble glory. Rosa Rosal is a bit wimpy – – but I guess her character calls for that. From afar, Vic Silayan looks stocky as the villain, unknown motives, unfounded anger, unmitigated repulsion, but his gruff charisma always leaves an indelible mark.
Avellana’s sensitivity to his material and Mike Accion’s impressive photography make Badjao a worthwhile viewing experience. The famed “Avellana touch” has never been more captivating and alluring than the visceral beauty of Badjao. It effectively brings the emotional nuances of conventional living, back when our small communities were ruled not by corruption but tradition. The lyrical details such as the vast open sea, the simple parting of the clouds, the rocks that witness the fight between Hassan and Jiriki, the burning of the raft, the bluish pearls in Bala Amai’s necklace, and the enlightening darkness of the night connive to put the film in such esteemed grace, a treasured myth exhumed in the sediments – – for everything feels like a captured photograph framed and hung in the world’s most exquisite gallery.
Putting the Badjaos in a positive light and the Tausogs on the other call valid arguments for partiality and cultural misrepresentation; the fingers on who does the harm to whom or who helps the other can be a source of endless debates, but sometimes the real subject in question is never really discussed. These issues, however, become irrelevant when the modest intentions of the film are considered. The battle between good and evil has always been present in storytelling art – – and when time decides to flip the coin of humankind, one always wins over the other.
*Badjao is one of the films screened in Sine Klasiks: Mga Natatanging Pelikula ni Rosa Rosal, along with Anak Dalita, Biyaya ng Lupa, and Sakada, held in Robinson’s Movieworld Galleria from September 17-23.