Having attained international fame (and a Best Director prize at Cannes) in 2009 with the relentlessly brutal corrupted-cop thriller Kinatay, Philippine director Brillante Mendoza might have raised a few eyebrows last year when he revealed his latest project being a government-backed project about natural disaster risk protection. Fears of the indie auteur peddling propaganda could now be allayed, however, as Taklub proves to be very much in line with the director’s trademark vision of the world as a bleak, imperfect if not even hopeless place.
An ensemble piece set amidst survivors of a real-life deadly typhoon which devastated vast swathes of the Philippines in November 2013, Taklub offers engaging drama about individuals strugging to mourn lost loved ones and rebuild their normal lives at the same time. Driven by yet another remarkably restrained turn from Philippine cinema grand dame Nora Aunor – here reteaming with Mendoza after her award-winning turn in Thy Womb – Taklub could very well head onwards for a long festival run after its premiere at the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes.
Restrained performances reveal post-trauma stress in a typhoon-swept town
While the film’s original title offers a more generic geographical handle for its story – it’s short for Tacloban, the Philippine city which was nearly flattened by Typhoon Haiyan two years ago – a more telling pointer about Mendoza’s motivations lies in its alternative title. Literally pointing to the perilous nature of the storm survivors’ ramshackle constructions – the film actually opens with a vivid depiction of a deadly fire engulfing one of the tents – ‘Trap’ could also be understood as a description of its characters’ panged up fears and frustrations.
While visible injuries like gashed foreheads and broken legs abound, it’s the psychological scars which hit the hardest. By shunning straightforward melodramatic exposition of all the varied tragic back stories, Mendoza and screenwriter Honeylyn Joy Alipio allow their characters to slowly and gently reveal their anguish and pain.
It’s only through her unused mugs with children’s photos and her partaking in a DNA test that one speculates snack bar proprietor Bebeth (Aunor) of having lost all her children but one (Shine Santos) during the disaster; similarly, it’s through his battle with bureaucrats that we learn of young fisherman Erwin (Aaron Rivera) and his two siblings of having lost their parents. Making up this collective of anguished souls is Larry (Julio Diaz), a tricycle driver coming to terms with the death of her wife through religious zeal, and Renato (Lou Veloso), the pensioner who lost his whole family in the fire at the beginning of the film.
Cinematographer Odyssey Flores’ handheld camerawork injects a sense of grit and urgency throughout. Meanwhile, production designer Dante Mendoza is canny enough to deploy small details to highlight the limited resources (and thus hope) of these survivors, rather than exoticising the poverty these individuals have to live under. (Conversations hint, rather than show, the potential dangers of life in this pseudo-slum, as a hoodlum customer asks Bebeth about the lack of men in her house while he ogles her daughter.)
Still, it’s the overall controlled performances from the cast – ranging from veterans like Aunor and Diaz, to younger faces like Rivera and Santos – which propels the film. The subdued behavior in the film’s first two thirds only help in heightening the drama in the final act, when tempers fray and characters implode as more bad news puncture their steel-willed veneer.
Just as it doesn’t offer a finale promising government-backed salvation for all – in fact, officials here are shown instructing survivors to relocate inland without offering them actual new places to live – Taklub provides no soothing closure for any of its characters. Instead, beliefs are shown shattered and discarded. While certainly milder in tone and more mainstream in its aesthetics, Taklub shares with Lav Diaz’s post-Haiyan, post-trauma documentary Storm Children : Part One a deep sense of uncertainty for the future.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Production companies: Center Stage Productions
Cast: Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, Aaron Rivera, Shine Santos
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenwriter: Honeylyn Joy Alipio
Producer: Larry I. Castillo
Director of photography: Odyssey Flores
Production designer: Dante Mendoza
Editor: Diego M. Dobles
Music: Diwa De Leon
Casting director: Zender Alih
International Sales: Films Distribution
In Filipino and English
No rating; 97 minutes