Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vincent Sandoval's Aparisyon - Guilt, Tragedy and the Holy

Adoration Cloister is a religious sanctuary in the woodlands of Rizal where less than a dozen monghas (nuns) reside. These nuns are self sustaining. They farm their own vegetables and sell their medicinal plants to town for revenues. They live with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to their superiors. They also shun communicating with the outside world, preferring a life of prayer. The year is 1971 and the nation is gripped by down spiraling political events – Marcos declaring Martial Law, the bombing of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda, subversives sprouting all over the nation. It’s a bleak era for our country. Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) comes into this scenario with wide-eyed optimism as she joins Adorasyon. She is welcomed by Sister Ruth (Fides Cuyugan Asencio), madre superior, and her right-hand “man” Sister Vera (Raquel Villavicencio) as they usher her into her religious vocation.

In the convent, she meets Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon) , the congregation’s extern who, as such, is tasked to face the “outside world” – buying supplies for their daily sustenance, selling plants at the market, etc. Among this population of nuns, Sister Lourdes finds alliance in the dexterous nun who soon ropes Lourdes into her outside activities. Sister Remy is distracted by the disappearance of her activist brother. She asks for a leave from her chores to help her family, but Sister Ruth didn’t allow her to. As a consequence, she takes covert detours, joining meetings of people with missing family. Sister Lourdes becomes party to their clandestine activities.

One day, the meeting stretches longer than necessary. The woodlands soon turn into a dimly lit, treacherous abyss. As the nuns make their way into the convent, they get assaulted. While Sister Remy gets to wriggle out of their predicament, Sister Lourdes isn't as lucky. She gets battered and raped until she’s but a limp and used entity of bruises and broken spirit. What happens to Sister Lourdes? The event stirs this reclusive crowd and throws them in a morally precarious stance. How will they save face from this tragedy? Would they cooperate with the local authority investigating the crime? In a time of strife, where conservative practices reign supreme, answers aren’t easy to come by.   

Director Vincent Sandoval and writer Jerry Gracio weave a tale rich in pathos and moral dilemma. They create an atmosphere of disconsolate isolation and helplessness, it almost feels like watching a horror story more than tragi-drama. The crisis is so palpable, it's almost difficult to detach oneself as a mere spectator. But what's more harrowing than  the random act of violence is the reality that eventually unfolds as the story moves into its conclusion. Moral hypocrisy exists even among those who's supposed to know better.

"Aparisyon" boasts of a powerful ensemble (a spectacular cast from Jodi Sta. Maria to Mylene Dizon, from the fantastic Fides Cuyugan Asencio to the empathetic Raquel Villavicencio), richly textured characters, and a stifling sense of paranoia, helplessness and disgruntling gloom. It allows us to look within ourselves and consider the hard questions presented in the movie. This is a must-see and, clearly, one of the best works to come out of this festival. Do not miss this!  

The nuns of Adorasyon wake up at 3:30 AM daily, work around the cloister, and pray all day.

Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) joins the congregation.

Time to get married to Jesus for Sister Remy. She resists lipstick, but gets told, "Masama bang maging maganda para sa Panginoon?"

Assaulted and abandoned


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