FILM REVIEW: ‘Birdshot’ in forbidden territory

Community News & Features Apr 13, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Birdshot-PosterBy Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

The 26-year old filmmaker Mikhail Red packs more into his years than most people — after all, he’s already helmed two movies and his galvanizing 2016 sophomore Birdshot is one of the few Filipino content to be released by online streaming service Netflix.

Birdshot centers on a man and his daughter, who lives in isolation while tending a vast cornfield surrounding a forest for the state-protected Philippine eagle (haribon). Secluded from the rest of civilization, young Maya (Mary Joy Apostol) is exposed to the roots of key questions of poverty and puberty. She is taught by her pragmatic father Diego (Manuel Aquino) to shoot animals like ducks so she would be able to survive on her own. Maya wanders into forbidden territory where she shoots the endangered haribon, unaware of its privileged status and unknowingly leaves a shotgun shell, the titular birdshot.

Birdshot_netflixTheir fate would be hinged on two policemen assigned to investigate on the lost eagle’s case after a botched police investigation on a missing bus-riding farmers’ case. In contrast to the cynical cop Mendoza (John Arcilla) who only warranted to pursue what he was tasked with, the rookie Domingo (Arnold Reyes) seeks to uphold what is just and righteous amidst corruption as status quo. This episodic slow-paced storytelling of dialectical characters leaves the viewer hanging for more.

The narrative arc winds up when the path of the four meet. The poor caretakers are unsurprisingly in the cross hairs of the constabulary rattled by anonymous threats to the young captain’s family. The parallels become stronger between the protégées in each of their training for survival and their turning points. As Maya blossoms into womanhood painted in the film with bloodstained bed from her menarche, the budding Domingo matures into an authority bent to fit the system then he later guns down the young woman’s dog Bala (played by German Shepherd Argo).

Birdshot_01One can find so many juxtapositions of figurative language here. For levity, Bala translates to bullet in English. Kidding aside, Maya is a personification of the former Philippine national bird “pulang maya” or red sparrow, which may also allegorically refer to the sparrow units of the New People’s Army in real life. The Special Partisan Unit (Sparu or Sparrow) are young idealists who prey on law enforcers, government officials and perceived predators.

For director Mikhail Red, it is a “moral parable” that can mirror Philippine social realities.

Cinematographer Mycko David brilliantly uses the camera to depict the rural landscape in earthy tones splattered with reds in some elements of clothing and gratuitous gore. Visual cues suffice that sometimes dialogue is not necessary.

Birdshot_02As Birdshot tackles the extinction of a bird so revered by the government, it also attempts to capture fleeting truth and justice. With cinema as his art form, Red gives a hint how people can deal with it. In one scene, the cruel Mendoza asks “Saan tayo magsisimula kung ang meron lang tayo ay wala?” (Where do we begin when all we have is nothing?). To which Domingo answers “Lahat naman nagsisimula sa wala.” (Everything starts from nothing).

Since its debut theatrical run, it has garnered attention by critics. It won Best Asian Future Film Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2016, and was the Philippine entry to the Best Foreign Film category of the 2017 Academy Awards.

Birdshot was released on the online platform on March 26. Meanwhile Cannes best director awardee Brillante Mendoza’s “Amo” will be available starting April 9.


Director: Mikhail Red; cinematographer: Mycko David; editors: Jay Halili, Mikhail Red; produced by: Pamela L. Reyes; written by: Mikhail Red; screenplay: Rae Red; music: Teresa Barrozo. Filipino, with English subtitles. Running time: 116 mins.

Starring: Mary Joy Apostol, Ku Aquino, Arnold Reyes, John Arcilla, Dido de la Paz, Elora Espano, Rolando Inocencio, Ronnie Quizon.