Text by Robert Gutierrez Jr.
Glorious is the past for some; but in the Philippines, it may prove dangerous for everyone.
Waving the flag of Philippine cinema’s centennial year, Circa tells us the heart-wrenching story of a veteran film producer named Doña Atang (Anita Linda). For her 100th birthday, the regisseur requested that her family gather all the actors who worked for her Bukang Liwayway Productions firm. In this pursuit, her daughters and grandson were asked to trace and contact the people who could make Doña’s wishes come true. As they ventured to fulfill this task, not only did they witness the changes that happened in the film industry — their love for the field was intensified as well.
With a conscious color grading and incorporation of magic realism, Circa brings us into the world of Philippine film and asks us to look back with a word of caution: the past, no matter how glorious it was, can never be repeated.
Color played an essential role in the movie, but it also assisted its storyline and dialogue, and helped represent its characters. The fusion of green and yellow evoked melancholy as it followed the sincere desire of Doña Atang and her family’s walk on the path of discovering the yesterday that took their grandmother’s sanity.
The incorporation of magic realism through Filipino folklore suggested the intimate and solemn relationship Doña Atang had with the past.
As swift as the tikbalang in the film is the duration of limelight exposure a person can seize in life. Confined in her past as a celebrated film producer, Doña had herself fantasizing and wishing for her glory days to come back. This, in turn, hindered her from fully moving forward and embracing the changes that digital media brings.
Her grandson’s (Enchong Dee) line, “Bakit kasi ayaw niyang ipa-digitalize ‘yung mga pelikula?” (Why won’t she agree to digitalize the films?) denoted his grandmother’s resistance to change, which led to the decay of her film strips, and to the deterioration of her sanity.
Consequently, it was in Doña’s speech during her birthday that a glimpse of her unfiltered heart stripped away to its core. In front of her family, and the actors she’s worked with, Doña said,“Our life will never end. I know because it will never end. I know this.”
Here, the past is deeply embedded in the movie’s rhetoric, as well as the debilitating kind of nostalgia, that tells us about the dangers of being too fixated on the past.It only becomes harmful when one does not welcome the changing fortunes of time. And in the case of Circa, Doña’s constant wonderings from time-to-time prompts stares set only on yesterday.
And it is in this reckoning, which requires a dialectical intercourse with the past, that we can marvel at the glory that is Philippine cinema. This is where the movie wants to take the audience. It aims to give a glimpse of the bittersweet transitions that led to where Philippine cinema is now, and how far it has come.
But much of that reckoning is perilous as well—the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what was; and the desire for everything that has been are the dangerous things that the film wants its viewers to avoid.
It dares not say to entirely forget the past. Instead, it sets a reminder to look back and pick up the wisdom it strongly boasts.
With these in mind, the dangers of not heeding the wisdom from the past rings true nowadays. History could attest to how dark and twisted the martial rule during the Marcos administration had been. Consequently, the current news is bombarded by flashes of dead bodies due to the current administration’s War on Drugs.
The past becomes a hallmark of one’s intentions. Beyond everything, it can only be patronized and learned from. This is what Circa is all about.
Circa’s showing in cinemas ended along with the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) 2019 films on September 13.