When you live far away from the city, you maximize every visit to the mall. Yesterday, after visiting the Iskwalado IV painting exhibit at SM Megamall, Speedy said we should just walk around for a while because it would be a bad idea to drive home during the rush hour. I agreed. Had we left SM Megamall at 6.00 p.m., it would have taken us three hours to get home to the suburb.
So, we walked around, had coffee, had dinner (lousy) and, after a quick trip to Cooks Exchange for some kitchen stuff, we were ready to go home. We went up to the parking lot roofdeck where we were parked (parking slots in the lower levels were full) and… surprise! It was raining. Pouring. Pouring like crazy. But we’re brave people. A little rain didn’t hurt anyone so Speedy made a dash for the pick-up, backed up to get me and we started to descend the parking lot building.
We were able to drive two levels down and then nothing moved. We knew — the streets around the mall were already flooded, traffic was at a standstill so even the vehicles exiting the mall were affected. We turned around, found a slot, parked and… I suggested seeing a movie. After two hours, the flashflood would have subsided and traffic would probably be manageable.
We went back into the building and headed straight for the cinemas. Gravity was on but I still scanned the posters near the ticket booths. A young woman wearing a Talk ‘N’ Text t-shirt approached us and asked if we wanted to see Alagwa for free. She pointed to the promo print of the movie, I read that it stars Jericho Rosales and I was immediately hesitant. Big Star from Big Studio = Bad Idea. Even for free. Then, the young woman said the magic words — INDIE FILM. Speedy’s eyes and mine locked for an instant then we turned to the woman and asked, “So, how is it free?” She said if we had a Smart or Sun mobile phone account (Speedy does), we just needed to register and that was that. Two tickets. Free. And Speedy registered.
At its most basic, Alagwa is a father and son story. Robert (Jericho Rosales) is a widower raising a young son, Brian (Bugoy Cariño). Stressed over financial difficulties and physically exhausted from work, housekeeping and looking after his child, Robert is often short-tempered and verbally abusive toward Brian.
When Brian got into a fight with a classmate whom he almost blinded with a pencil, Robert whips him and scolds him. He makes Brian tie a towel around his head to cover his eyes to make him feel what it is like to be blind. A day later, to make up for the angry treatment he gave the boy, Robert takes Brian to the mall. In the taxi, Brian plays his favorite tune on his flute and they laugh about his playing being out of tune. After a meal, Brian asks to be taken to the toilet. Trying to be independent, he tells his father he did not need to be accompanied inside. Robert tells him to wait at the toilet entrance when he’s done. Robert then goes to the Lotto booth to buy a ticket. He gets back to the toilet entrance, does not find Brian, assumes the boy is still inside so he goes in. But Brian is gone.
Robert’s search leads him to a pimp (Smokey Manaloto) who, threatened with bodily harm, confesses to Robert that everything was controlled by a crime syndicate that sold children abroad. After a scuffle, the pimp takes pity on Robert and agrees to help him find Brian.
The pimp and Robert part after exchanging mobile phone numbers with the pimp promising to call Robert as soon as he had information about Brian’s whereabouts. The call comes while Robert is at the police station, the pimp tells Robert that Brian is among a group scheduled to be transported abroad, and Robert needs to provide grease money so they could get Brian. In a hurry to collect the money and meet the pimp, Robert drops his phone. The police get hold of it.
Robert meets the pimp. The police arrive. Thinking that Robert had betrayed him, the pimp puts a knife on Robert’s neck. The police shoot the pimp and the last link to Brian is lost.
Alagwa is not a feel-good movie, but it is a very good movie. It will make you think, it will make you smile, it will make you angry… It will make you feel so many things. But it is not easy to watch. In fact, watching it is a harrowing experience. I didn’t realize how tense I was until my arms went numb from clenching my fists too hard.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the part where the pimp takes Robert to where the kidnapped children are kept. It is a total assault on the senses and the emotion as the pimp takes Robert to a sleazy club that fronts a maze of connected buildings that serve as tenement housing for the dregs of society — drug dealers and addicts, prostitutes, kidnappers, pimps and human traffickers. A descent to hell. In those few minutes, the viewer is shown a world, albeit from an exaggerated perspective, that most would rather pretend did not exist.
I don’t know if the ending of Alagwa can be called “happy.” Robert does find his son, alive, but under the most tragic circumstances.
Alagwa is currently showing in Metro Manila cinemas.