FILM REVIEW: Madilim Ang Gabi (Dark is the Night)

Community Opinion & Analysis Sep 29, 2017 at 2:51 pm

59c0959a1c0000140079f216By Ysh Cabana

Madilim ang Gabi (Dark is the Night), written and directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr. is a stark look at a household in a busy city torn by the looming bureaucratic anti-drug crackdown. With Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s fascist drug war as its backdrop, it is a haunting lamentation that bears witness to the evils of conflict and injustice.

The opening sequence is a seemingly benign portrait of a Filipino family singing “happy birthday to you” with the help of a karaoke machine to a guest celebrant who is apparently a local government official. Then it grabs you by the throat and insists that you don’t look away as violence is introduced with such questionable force that you’re powerless to not follow. Cops, who just gunned down an unarmed suspect, are shown anonymous and faceless, in contrast to the dramatic display of a mother left mourning. The action takes place in the slums of Manila which incidentally happens to be Alix’s subject in 2009 as an homage to the second golden age of Philippine cinema (from the 1970s to the early 1980s) with classics like Lino Brocka’s Jaguar (1979) and Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (1980).

The title characters are played by veteran actors Gina Alajar and Phillip Salvador as the couple who make ends meet by dealing drugs on the side. Alajar is middle-aged Sara who sews washrags, or trapo, made up of fabric scraps she sells as her “front.” Salvador is Lando, her supportive husband, who occasionally drives a jeepney and tends to put his feet up when it comes to business and family.

Their income is steady but they decide to quit the trade, as their son Alan (Felix Roco) is a an addict and is in risk of getting killed extrajudicially through the police’s tokhang or ‘knock-and-plead’ campaign. Their life turns into limbo after she dreamt one night that her son goes missing.

The search begins since Alan hasn’t been back home. In a slough of passionate appeal, the couple tries to look for their son through dark alleys and to contact a complex network of nameless faces. The film then starts to roll slowly. The audience are not even given a sense of time or a clue of a particular place as the couple is shown wandering the city. It’s as if the director intently portrayed the anxiety of waiting for someone who will never come.

In general, the action shots where there are chase scenes or other disturbing elements are well done. Dark’s visual take is treated with a shaky vibe that subtle details make it upsetting. Sometimes, the camera stays tight with a shallow focus creating the sense of confinement in limited spaces and limited opportunities. Interlaced throughout the movie are samples of Duterte’s speeches used as the threatening voice of moral authority.

This is how Dark can be read as a narrative, not so much by what it says, but what it does not say. At times, Sara would check in calls from a person she would refer to as Boss. It is not clear as to who is the person in the other line when she picks up her cellphone: her former drug-syndicate capo Kidlat (Laurice Guillen) or the corrupt police chief (Bembol Roco) who protects her. And there is so much to savor the nuances here, especially that it is suggested implicity that Sara, wearing a Duterte wristband, is a supporter of the populist strongman. With their search falling short and external conflicts rising, at one point, she would only resort to using narcotics herself.

Dark is the Night presents an essential characteristic of human situation, which emphasizes suffering, absurdity, impunity, and nothingness. Still there are many areas that Alix could have explored in the screenplay: the character sketches were not given more depth given the calibre of actors and actresses cast. Nevertheless, it is quite an allegory of the unidentified bodies of poor people that are victims of the brutal drug war. More than imitating real life, the social relevance of the film is that it begs you to question: How can we use misery as a form of resistance? At the end, we are directed by the moving image not to go gently against the dying light.

While the movie had its world premiere at the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, it will be shown again this fall as part of “People Have the Power: Resistance in Filipino Cinema” talks from October 5th to November 4th.

Madilim ang Gabi

Directed by Adolfo Borinaga Alix, Jr,; screenplay and editing by Adolfo Alix Jr.; cinematography by Albert Banzon; sound by Aian Louie Caro and Marco Pietro Javier; produced by Brian Sellers, Didier Costet, Jun Sevilla; original Score by Mikoy Morales; In Tagalog with English subtitles; Running time: 106 minutes.

Starring: Gina Alajar, Phillip Salvador, Bembol Roco, Felix Roco. With: Anita Linda, Perla Bautista, Elizabeth Oropesa, Rosanna Roces, Cherry Pie Picache, Angel Aquino, Alessandra de Rossi, Laurice Guillen, Julio Diaz, Iza Calzado, Sid Lucero, Jason Abalos, Zanjoe Marudo and Cherie Gil.