by Anna Biala


Perhaps for many, the promise of royalty is a privilege too good to be missed.

That is not the case for Dowokan (Barbie Forteza).

Heiress to the binukot title, Dowokan is expected to continue her grandmother Pina-ilog’s (Nora Aunor) legacy of living a secluded life and keeping their group’s traditions to appease the spirits in their homeland.

In their seclusion, binukots, the community’s culture-bearers, are taught how to weave, dance and learn their oral history. They are required to wear veils on the rare occasions that they have to go outside, assisted by servants all the time, and prohibited from dating until the “right time” comes.

Indeed, traditions play a crucial role in shaping one’s identity. However, as soon as the movie theater lights go out, “Tuos” attempts to opens a discussion on how and what happens when old-age practices meet the present.

Based on a pre-hispanic cultural practice, Director Derick Cabrido’s “Tuos” (Pact) weaves the story of the otherwise unpopular binukot princesses whose kingdoms lie deep within the hinterlands of Panay through a layer of visually compelling scenes.

Sandwiched between live action shots are animations and shadow play of their community’s history, made more hauntingly beautiful by the epic chant that plays in the background. When the music stops, reality fades in again; the binukot starts to sing once more, and the visual storybook comes at play.

Given the distinct music choice and breathtaking shots, there is no doubt the film deserves the Best Sound, Best Original Music Score, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Audience Choice Awards.

More than the laudable use of sound and imagery, the film, set in the modern times, presents a rather familiar narrative of women and their struggle to break free from the shackles of societal customs rooted on ancient beliefs.

Pina-ilog, despite her old-age, dances gracefully in weddings as part of her duty, the river of silver strands whipping around her as she moves.

She watches the days go by from her side of the window, conditioned to be content with passively staying indoors with her granddaughter and maids, and she does so without any complaints. After all, her life has always been the same until her granddaughter expresses her dissent.

Like a bird in a gilded cage, strong-willed Dowokan cries foul. For her, being the “chosen one” means losing the freedom to choose how to live her life, which is her biggest fear.  Throughout the film, headstrong Dowokan asserts her non-belief in her community’s tradition. Despite her young age, she is firm in forsaking her role as the community’s next binukot princess.

Panning to reality, the world’s younger generations are both lauded and criticized for being unhesitant in defying tradition and breaking out of molds bestowed upon them by society and the older generations.

With the flipping of the calendar pages naturally comes the similar change in people’s views, beliefs, and traditions initiated by those tired of norms they perceive as oppressive–out of this collective discontent came the fight for causes such as feminism.

In this day and age, the struggle for women’s rights expanded to include the diverse backgrounds cultures, traditions, boundaries, and identities of women especially those of color.

Dowokan and Pina-ilog’s struggles against a culture that views women more as objects subject to religious and cultural customs than humans allowed to have a say about their conditions are struggles reminiscent of this kind of feminism.

They are not alone.

While the right to a woman’s ownership of her own body is crucial to the fight against the patriarchal paradigm of society, recognizing the link between feminism and class struggle gears the shift towards genuine change.

In “Tuos,”  binukots are leaders and empowered personas but like many women, high status does not necessarily mean getting exempted from double-standards.

“Tuos,” despite its very slow pacing, offers a fresh perspective on women and the cultural barriers that affect their lives.

The last few minutes of the film gives birth to more questions but one thing is for sure: “Tuos” wants the viewers to see that the world can be a better place for women–if only we act now.

(Photo grabbed from the Cinemalaya website.)



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