Film Review: Women of the Weeping River (2016)

Community News & Features Jan 26, 2018 at 4:19 pm

1-CMYKBy Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Women of the Weeping River captures in cinematic storytelling scenes from a remote Muslim community beset with armed struggle as clans from either side of a river cannot settle land disputes that hark back since time immemorial.

Set in the Philippines’ southern island of Sulu, Mindanao, the film echoes the region’s specific characteristics of territorital disputes, extremist emanations and intergenerational clan culture, where families are torn by “neverending vengeance.” The plot hinges on the lives of women implicated in such violence. The lens focuses on the young widow named Satra Mustafa (Laila Putli Ulao), whose husband Hasmullah was allegedly slain by the rival house of Ismaels. But this is not your typical revenge film where the protagonist attempts to restore social order after a wrong has been committed.

4-CMYKThe cast here is entirely composed of non-professionals and more importantly, locals belonging to the same community treated in fiction. For one, Sharifa Pearlsia Ali-Dans, who was Assistanct Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and a passionate women’s advocate, plays the role of the Ismael matriarch, aunt Farida. Director Sheron Dayoc, a native of Mindanao and a soldier’s son, has left individual stories of each to achieve the best possible authenticity. Dayoc’s revenge cinema does not pretend to right historical wrongs.

Briefly, ARMM has been born almost thirty years ago out of the need to establish the region’s own government and prevent further escalation of hostilities. And for the most part of written records, majority of Mindanao has been a separate territory, whose people resisted foreign rule for over 400 years. This attributes to their own culture and identity apart from the rest of country. Living under the shadows of the anti-development Philippine state, the people more commonly known as Moro, suffer from chronic poverty and forgotten conclicts. Local elites then move forward in a coercive manner, i.e. through the purchase of firearms and the use of private armies to keep a tight grip on political power. For one’s rank in a feudal society is tied to honor or “martabat.” Dishonor can be due to criminal acts of theft, duplicity, rape and murder.

3At its best, Women of the Weeping River made the point without preaching moralism. The filmic approach was to let the viewers pay attention to the conditions left on the margins. The script was originally written in English and had to be translated to Tausug, the de facto language of provincial identity, that plays well as the cast are rooted with the delivery of dialogues. In the absence of the script, some striking shots of the landscape of Zamboanga, where the film was shot over a period of 18 days, frame human action in the midst of the tranquil tropics. Slow cinema is accompanied with the piece “In Your Arms” rendered in the restlessness of big band jazz.

As violence continues to increase with blood and fire among men, the women’s roles are given more weight. Satra is taken over by her fear in losing more loved ones and the desire to preserve her family finally decide to let the rage burn down. Against her father’s will, she secretly meets up with the matriarch of the rival clan to seek possible reconciliation even to humble herself by offering her prized jewelry–her only possession from her late husband’s memory.

2Satra and the other woman Shadiya encounter each other in the thick forest staring at each other without uttering a word. In the end: an image of several men in uniform left breathless in the mud and in their truck, probably ambushed by unsuspecting enemy combatants.

Women of the Weeping River may depict social realities by way of gender and geography shown on screen. But whether the fiction was treated in documentary-like manner was of little consequence. Dayoc is aware of this as the filmmaker shows in the concluding scene, resolutions to such conflicts presented in perceptual interaction are so limited as the individual viewer can alter the outcome.

Poster-Women-of-the-WeepingWomen of the Weeping River

Director and writer: Sheron Dayoc; cinematographer: Rommel Sales, editor: Carlo Francisco Manatad; executive producers: Fernando M. Ortigas and E. A. Rocha; co-producers: Vincent Nebrida, Karim Aitouna, Thomas Micoulet; producer: Sheron Dayoc. In Tausug with English subtitles. Running time: 146 minutes. This film is not rated.

Starring: Laila Putli Ulao, Sharifa Pearlsia Ali-Dans, Taha G. Daranda Tan, Dalma D. Baginda, Miriam Zimadar-Raper, Hasim P. Kasim, Mohammad Yusop Hajiraini