Film Review: Alimuom (2018): Defending Tomorrow
Film Review: Alimuom (2018): Defending Tomorrow
By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Repprter
Vapors billow into the vermillion sky when the earth has become bitterly hostile for organic agriculture and farming has become illegal that people have been deployed to the extraterrestrial. Alimuom (literally, “Vapors”) is a 2018 cyberpunk film that is set in the distant future Philippines petrified with Marcos-era references.
According to writer/director Keith Sicat, whose portfolio includes documentary “History of the Underground” (2017) and earlier feature “The Guerrilla is a Poet” (2013), its female protagonist defies the machismo and sexism of sci-fi past. She is Prof. Diwata Encarnacion (Ina Feleo), whose family’s work centres on cataloguing and preserving botanical diversity, particularly with regards to agricultural security having lived within the bubble that is the Mega Manila bio-dome(not linked with the Olympic sports facility in Montreal). Her expertise is sustainable terraforming, or the physical transformation of desolate lands into lush environment. Her husband Leo is working in resource extraction in another planet. Their son Joaquin lives with her and her father (Dido dela Paz), a retired plant scientist and former bureaucrat whose jaded by the government after his seedbanks were all confiscated for reason we are not informed. But since meeting Mr. Aguirre (Jeffrey Quizon) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Diwata slowly uncovers the conspiracy behind why farming is forbidden and the how the red scarf-wearing Roses of War can survive in a harsh terrain outside the comforts of the corporate sphere.
Rooted on his comic book creation “Outerspace Filipino Workers,” the film adaptation uses visual effects and sound to create that vision in live action minus the adventure despite the meager budget. Wearable learning device, holographic tablet displays, and gesture-based computers are just some of the extreme graphical representations of what could be the hi-tech future. For an historical example, the hovercraft that brings Diwata and the two agents to rebel territory resembles and flies like a giant insect, complete with Metrocom decals. While beeping sound for nearly every change in scene is creatively used. Music sets the tone when there is no speaking parts. In one particular moment our protagonist expresses her frustration with her OFW spouse that despite the available intercosmos technology influencing their intimacy, their relationship has become toxic because of time-space distance thanks to relativity. “Mr. Pogi in Space” then plays in a wry sense of humor.
But all these tropes are not meant to downplay the gravitas of the conflict the story presents. Its version of futurism is built on real-life dystopia peeling through layers of animation and compositing its subversive nature: The fight against a dystopian barren tomorrow is a fight against today’s capitalist crisis. In more ways than one, Sicat’s non-speculative fiction is itself a kind of movie parody of pop consciousness. Its bold as an artifact of the counterculture.
Alimuom takes its title from the Tagalog word for the odor that lingers when rain falls after a prolonged dry spell. The vapor from the damp ground believed to bring sickness, according to local superstition, alludes to the strong smell of death from the hands of those who are supposed protectors of the people. But within the context of the film, alimuom would become a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and a symbol of hope so we can start planning and planting for the imminent climate breakdown.
Alimuom premiered in Philippine cinemas, as part of the 2018 ToFarm Film Festival, an advocacy-based competition featuring new movies that explore local agriculture and the lives of Filipino farmers. Its first “cyber” film screening was organized by Another Hole in the Head Film Festival in August 2020.
*Apologies to Global Witness for the title of this article. Refer to report “Defending Tomorrow: The climate crisis and threats against land and environmental defenders” https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defending-tomorrow/
Director/writer/editor: Keith Sicat; cinematographer: Ice Idanan; music: Francis De Veyra; sound: Mark Laccay; production designer: Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena, Leeroy New, Danny Red; visual effects: Ely Gapay, Dennis Rejoy, John Vincent Suarez; producers: Hai Balbuena, Sari Dalena, Don DeLeon, Julie Lluch; executive producers: Dr. Milagros How
Rating: Not rated. In Filipino with English subtitles. Running time: 83 mins.
Starring: Ina Feleo, Jeffrey Quizon, Mon Confiado, Kiko Matos, Dido de la Paz, Elora Españo, Karl Medina, Chanel Latorre, Marife Necesito, Lehner Mendoza, Karen Toyoshima, Genevieve Reyes, Blesie Ann Rivera, Joyen Santos, Nezzar Pitt