Randy Alcantara (Allen Dizon) lives a facile, albeit joyless life as a single parent to sickly 8 year old Angeline (Felixia Crysten Dizon) in bucolic San Vicente where dust settles on crops and its murky river. Randy is a coffin maker in nearby Santo Tomas where he takes home P285 for a day of carpentry work. A devout father to his child, Randy’s only vice is mischievous town beauty Neri (Chanel Latorre) who mostly takes him for a ride in exchange of phone load and the occasional night out at the cinema. One day, Randy, along with his colleagues, gets hired for an overnighter to rush 60 coffins for a Congressman’s charity project. This will earn him P800 and a day off work thereafter.
In the morning, Randy makes an unexpected visit to Mabel (Gladys Reyes), Angeline’s biological mother, now blissfully married to an American. He asks for her help so they could claim Angeline’s corpse. Mabel acquiesces. After all, Angeline is her daughter too. But she wants Angeline’s body to undergo autopsy. “Ako na’ng bahala,” she insists. This presents a dilemma for the still-discombobulated Randy who’s aware that he could be pinned down for his daughter’s untimely demise. What to do?
The film tells its story like a slow burn, thus you won't miss any of the salient points the film tries to convey. This richness of ideas thrive within the story: lessons on self-medication; single parenthood; desperation of people where even corpses have become a salable commodity; that sending a dead body to a hospital can cost you P2,300; and the anecdote of the coffin maker who eventually ends up making one for his own daughter.
Allen Dizon, as Randy Alcantara, makes a career-best performance that unusually reeks with cinematic paradox, i.e. emotive vulnerability and confidence we’ve never seen from the actor’s previous works. Without any hint of awkwardness we usually find him in (e.g. Joel Lamangan’s “Kamkam” and Joven Tan’s “Paupahan”), Dizon immersively loses himself in portraying the beleaguered father who may have caused his daughter’s death. His character is adequately entangled in a bind where the harder he tries to extricate himself out of his self-inflicted predicament; the deeper he digs himself a hole. And there seemingly is no light, or ladder if you will, at the end of the tunnel.
Laxamana makes adequate use of the region’s local color, giving the film a crisp atmosphere that’s typically rural and a visually fresh scenography. He likewise succeeds using local language to convey a deceptively laidback atmosphere without alienating his audience (i.e. those who don’t understand Kapampangan or are allergic – not just to Amoxicillin – but to subtitles as well). What’s better, his ensemble is a commendable lot: Gladys Reyes, Chanel Latorre, Emilio Garcia, Bor Ocampo and even the comebacking former-sexy star Tonio Ortigas all contribute to a suspenseful cautionary tale.
Jason Paul Laxamana’s “Magkakabaung” (The Coffin Maker) benefits from the script’s anti-drama swerve, refusing to spiral down into melodramatic sentimentalism despite obvious avenues into the story. Laxamana deftly employs longs takes to tell his narrative sequences; a ploy that usually requires patience, precise blockings and time-consuming rehearsals or re-takes. What unravels before you is an organic flow of events - and a very cohesive story telling that’s hard to shake off. Laxamana’s compelling yarn-spinning feels like the perfect delivery of a promise seen in his earlier works, “Astro Mayabang” and “Babagwa”. There are a few misplaced snippets (like the scene showing the “possessed or convulsing girl”) but most of the details harmoniously settle into a fully realized cinematic work. Without a doubt, “Magkakabaung” is my favorite; it is undoubtedly this MMFF New Wave edition’s best picture, and one the year’s finest.
While we're at it, you may not want to miss Zsa zsa Padilla's delectable turn as the cancer-stricken, foul-mouthed lawyer Bella Monteclaro in Zig Dulay's "M (A Mother's Maiden Name)" where Nico Antonio likewise delivers a spot-on portrayal of Joven, Bella's gay son. If however, for some reason you want to acquire a slice (or two) of tension headache amid lush cinematography, try Ato Bautista's "Gemini". And bring two boxes of Ibuprofen with you.