by Krysten Mariann Boado
Uncertainty escapes the screen each time he loads the gun with a single bullet and puts it to his head.
Silence ensues, and the camera pans to his exasperated eyes, looking for an exit from the world before it closes in on his pointer finger as he pulls the trigger without a trace of hesitation.
Nothing happens, and Justino (Tommy Abuel, Benjamin Alves), a Death March survivor and a judge during the Martial Law Era, lives for another day in paradise.
“Dagsin” (Gravity) is a film centered on jaded, aging Justino who was once an idealistic young man brimming with hope and passionately in love with his wife, Corazon (Marita Zobel, Janine Gutierrez).
When Justino loses Corazon from leukemia, he also loses his will to live as his wife remains his sole anchor to the world where he has witnessed and experienced a lifetime’s worth of historical tragedies.
Upon sorting his deceased wife’s belongings with their adopted daughter, Mercy (Lotlot de Leon), Justino finds his wife’s diaries and relives their joyous years together all the while discovering a secret Corazon has kept from him in the later part of their marriage.
Presenting itself as equal parts heavy drama and period romance, “Dagsin” is a wonderfully crafted film that takes a trip down memory lane, except the walk of fondness not only encompasses the nostalgic, heartwarming moments of a couple very much absorbed in each other.
Director Atom Magadia pulls out significant events in Philippine history from the Japanese occupation and the Martial Law years, pitching the lovers in the troughs of the eras’ turning points.
While the idea in itself is brilliant and commendable, especially with the need for Filipinos’ awareness and exposure to their own history, Magadia’s execution fails to reach its full potential with the film’s primary takeaway impression still being a story of love.
Although the film introduces the elements of brutality during the Japanese invasion, its take on the Martial Law era heavily relies on long dialogues, failing to show more powerful images that are at par with the ones it has set for the war with the Japanese.
Magadia’s take on the Martial Law chunk of the movie is dependent on diary entries and Justino’s present state of paralysis, which was caused by an ambush during the Marcos dictatorship.
It drops occasional references of insurgency, activism, political prisoners and fascist military men; however, the historical background stops there and returns to the relationship of Corazon and Justino.
Seldom do the audience hear the name of Marcos as the mastermind behind the human rights violations that occurred in during the dark era, a fact which is currently shrouded by the idea that the deceased dictator is a soldier and a war hero that ought to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
In the film, the only exhibitions of human rights violations inflicted on the 70,000 arrested individuals during the Martial Law era come off in optimistic sentences uttered by Corazon in her diary as well as Justino’s quick flashbacks towards the end of the movie.
Although it makes an attempt, it does not ring loudly enough for the 34,000 Filipinos who were victims of torture during the Marcos regime. Oddly enough, despite being labelled a period film, “Dagsin” has limited historical shots as it often relies on conversations between characters to narrate the transpired stories and vintage references to turn back the time.
While it is understandable that Cinemalaya-run films do not possess the highest budget in the industry, the movie still fails to transform into a platform for higher discourse or even historical education. Instead, it returns to the premise of romance, a capitalist notion clouding the public from social realities that art ought to express and expose.
Albeit its remarkable effort to diverge from the mainstream cheesy romance Filipinos are very much familiar with, the film becomes a waste of an avenue to discuss historical events that are critical not only to the story but also to the present times where historical revisionism stands as a real threat.
Rather than being a film which reminds us to never forget, it becomes a character-driven film too absorbed with the people involved in the plot or the setting, which is often neglected.
Despite Justino reflecting the typical Filipino who has seen enough grit, endured enough pain and has given up on the idea of change with the turning of the clock’s hands, the film does not dare go beyond that.
It banks on his idea of being an “exceptional survivor” throughout the years, failing to shed light on those who have not survived, most of whom with names we could not remember.
With President Rodrigo Duterte having little regard for Marcos’ war record and war merits, the need for filmmakers to produce art that serves as historical reminders becomes more urgent and prominent.
Filipinos need to be reminded that the fight to restore democracy was not bloodless at all and that in the recent elections, Filipinos almost placed a Marcos back in the Malacanang.
Filipinos need to be reminded that an American soldier was responsible for the death of Jennifer Laude, and that the president and his government has declared the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) Constitutional despite the rape cases and territorial exploitation stemming from US military bases.
Filipinos need to be reminded that gender inequality stemmed from the arrival of the Spaniards who took away the Philippines’ idea of communal property and non-stereotypical roles in the community.
Together with the people, it must target a stronger, impeding force than the gravity brought about by the act of remembering.
Films must learn to defeat the art of forgetting. #