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One of several gems in this year's Cinemalaya Film Festival

Jul 15, 2010
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Halaw is a great wake-up call for us to reach out to our fellow kababayans in these less-than-forgiving times.[firstpara]
The film is directed by Sheron R. Dayoc as part of the full-length film category in this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival.

Apart from veteran actors John Arcilla and Maria Isabel Lopez, Halaw has compiled some of the most convincing yet unknown actors we’ve ever seen—if they are even real actors at that.

The story centers on a group of people boarding a pump boat to set out on a long journey to cross the Mindanao-Malaysian borderline.

All coming from and wanting to leave the difficult life in Jolo, each passenger has their own unique agenda upon reaching their supposed promised land.

There are several stories in every individual: a human-trafficker looking to do business overseas, a long-time hostess who has been enjoying the fruits of her labor, and an illiterate brother and sister out to look for their mother, to name a few.

Majority of the characters in the film speak the language of the Badjao, which leaves the regular viewer relying on instinct and observation alone to learn what the heck is going on.

But that’s not to say everyone is in for a hassle-filled hour. This actually makes Halaw look very natural, and we’re pretty sure most of the ones we see onscreen are legitimate Badjaos with no knowledge of the Tagalog language.

John Arcilla, who plays the human trafficker, did a stellar job of belonging in an environment full of flat-nosed, brown-skinned natives.

The guy almost convinced us to go with him when he was trying to persuade two local girls into going to Malaysia during one scene. Yet he also displayed hints of sympathy at some points in the film.

There are no flashy camera angles or extremely silent, long shots—favorite indie tricks that become ubiquitous during festivals such as this. Halaw is mostly in your face, showing us not what’s in store for them in Malaysia but why they’re going some place else in the first place instead.

A low point:  Halaw has the most terrible display of subtitles ever written. The words’ timing was terrible, and its inaccuracy will confuse viewers even more than they already are with the Badjao language.

The film is considerably short for a full-length feature film, and its overall conclusion could use a little bit more background.

Still, there’s a very good chance you will leave the theatre feeling extremely justified. Its imperfections in the technical aspect somehow blended in with the poverty-stricken setting of the film.

Halaw will be shown in the 6th Cinemalaya Film Festival from July 9 to July 18, 2010. For the film’s screening schedule, visit www.cinemalaya.org.