FILM REVIEW: Tu Pug Imatuy: The Right to Kill
A poetic, pertinent portrait of aboriginal people surviving hungry, impoverished lives, Arbi Barbarona’s first feature film “Tu Pug Imatuy” (The Right to Kill) traces the environmental devastation of southern Philippines, in the hinterlands of Mindanao.
Tu Pug Imatuy is considerably slow-paced and the plot quite sparse. We patiently follow the story of Ibunay (Malona Sulatan) a woman whose care for her children are manifested in valuing their education in the midst of death and disaster. Ibunay’s husband Dawin (Jong Monzon) skillfully criss-crosses the rough earth with bent sticks in hand to protect and provide for the family. Through the tragedy of their youngest child’s death, we are introduced to the few other people, who populate their village. We learn through an elder’s enigmatic tale that forests from which the people have sourced their food were devastated by the timber industry. The local Manobo people killed a giant white boar only to find out it was one of the loggers.
Barbarona can easily be misread as heavy-laden with political motivation, but as one observes the filmmaker carefully provides insight into the human condition. The commandos Dawin and children encountered after an ambush are portrayed as people with conventional notions of morality. The sergeant and the lieutenant are on a collision course where decisions on social affairs are left to the audience. The former discriminates the highlanders as second-rate while keeping them alive. The latter affirms to crush the rebellion but shows doubt they can succeed.
The higher up the mountain we go, the more we understand the ongoing larger conflict. Dawin and Ibunay were forced to guide the soldiers, who are in the middle of the hunt for guerrilla New People’s Army. What follows is a shocking sequence of torture, rape and murder with the military as the culprit.
Using the aesthetic of the meandering lens, the audience are able to explore the subjectivity of the characters: the Manobo family, the community school, the military and the rebels. The camera faces the plot squarely. The filmmaker’s attention to details doesn’t shy away from the savagery. His directing is effective in using close-ups for more acting and less dialogue. In Malona Sulatan, Barbarona finds a luminous actress that proves Mindanao can give Philippine cinema a run for its money. Thoughtfully-framed panoramic compositions allow the naturalistic narrative mode to endure.
Inspired by actual events, Tu Pug Imatuy is not just a reimagining of the indigenous people’s turmoil. The movie shares the keen eye for the social relevance of its production and is an update on the 2014 documentary ‘Pahiyum ni Boye’ (Boye’s Smile) and the 2015 short film ‘Pakot’ (Wild Boar). The camera is there not merely to capture Ibunay’s journey. It serves to sho how her community, subjected to negligence by the government and abuse by the military establishment, learns to survive by resisting.
The Manobo title refers to the notion that the act of killing is justified because the deprivation of life is in the circumstance, not in the moral object. Implicit within the debate on morality is the juxtaposition of violence within the history of social divisions and class struggle. Through the moving picture, the director conveys that the terrain for the people without equal opportunities will eventually be fertile for different forms of conflict and explode with aggression.
The film ends in a powerful angle where we find Ibunay on her knees looking down at her trap she intended for large game. She finds resolve closer to the clouds after fighting for her dignity.
All these field a clear insight of liberatory experience more than merely presenting the realities of poverty through fiction.
Tu Pug Imatuy
Directed by Arbi Barbarona; written by Arnel Mardoguio; cinematography by Brian Jimenez, Arbi Barbarona; music by Arbi Barbarona; production design by Bagwani Amplayo; produced by Red Motion Media, Kilab Multimedia, Yellow Kite Productions, Play Weaver Productions, Norhaiya Macusang. In Manobo, with English subtitles. Running time: 90 minutes. This film is not rated.
Starring: Jong Monzon, Malona Sulatan, Luis Georlin Banaag III, Jamee Rivera, Jillian Khayle Barbarona, Henyo Ehem, Mentroso Malibatu, Nona Ruth Sarmiento