image from Signal Rock (2018), dir. Chito Roño

A mutual connection is required in order to make clear contact. Sympathy demands consigning oneself to the perspective of the other party. Such are the mechanics of successful communication or that of an art piece that seeks to avoid apathy from its audience –– for to live and communicate as a society, one must understand the situation of others.

Set in an isolated island in the province of Samar, Signal Rock opens showing the titular rock formation where residents climb in its dangerous peaks, scrambling to get a phone signal so they could contact their loved ones from the outside. The movie early on establishes a sense of divide between these locations – and by extension, conditions.

The movie never really shows life outside the island. But it did give witness to the vivid personalities and living conditions situated inside through the protagonist Intoy. Christian Bables plays Intoy in a portrayal that is unquestionably deserving of acclaim, although the depiction of the brown-skinned Intoy could sometimes be obstructed by Bables’ distracting, Caucasian-looking nose.

The movie mostly follows Intoy as he traverses the entire island, seeking help from the inhabitants to bring his sister home. The plot is enshrouded by other subplots concerning the inhabitants, though these don’t capture the audience’s attention as much as the main storyline does.

The meat of the movie is really about bringing home Intoy’s sister – her diaspora is where the plot and themes revolve around. Its flavor, however, comes from inspecting the attitudes of the people left behind by the likes of Intoy’s sister –– for her diaspora is not only that of a single instance, but a part of a whole phenomenon that almost seems like a tradition in their island.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to the island, as it continues to be a national trauma of ours. Filipina diaspora refers to how our women leave the country to go to foreign soil, seeking the illusory promise of a better life.

The motif of a disjunct phone call fits well literally and figuratively in the movie. Communication is a two-way system wherein if one channel fails to understand and correspond, the whole process fails.

This is not unlike the movie’s situation.

Signal Rock offers only the sole perspective of the inhabitants left behind by their women. The question of where these women end up to or how they fare is left dangling in the air. Intoy’s sister is never seen on-screen. Her voice is the only vestige of her that is present within the frames, acting as a ghost haunting the island.

Maybe this is what director Chito S. Roño envisaged for the movie. Here, he tackles the real life plight of the feminine, only to show to the audience the people who remained and how they cope and react. The absence in the frames of those absent in the narrative fulfills a poetic disconnect.

Perhaps what Signal Rock intentionally or unintentionally failed to ultimately address, however, is the question of why the women leave in the first place.

Because to solve a problem is to find the root of its cause. This is what the inhabitants fail to understand; this is why they fail to sympathize. It’s the blockade distorting the signal on their part that results in a harrowing misunderstanding of their women’s plight.

The trick is whether or not the audience would also fail to connect with this message. It’s to recognize that Signal Rock’s signal is only strong on one channel of its discourse. Whether or not the film is in fact meant to focus on only this one side, it is no less important to educate oneself on the conditions of the other.

Signal Rock will be screened at the UP Cine Adarna on September 4 and 5.


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