A Timely Story
"Taklub," which stars Nora Aunor and was directed by Brillante Ma. Mendoza, captures the post-Typhoon Haiyan ((Hurricane Yolanda) reality in 2013 in the hardest-hit city of Tacloban, Leyte, in the Philippines. Filmed in an intimate documentary style, the film features actors blending in with real residents coping with the devastation, focusing on three survivors: a mother who lost her children; a husband who lost his wife; a son who lost his parents.
Bebeth, portrayed by Aunor, owned a restaurant and is searching for her children who are still missing; Larry, played by Julio Diaz, is a widower looking at religion as a panacea for his pain. Aaron Rivera plays Erwin, a young man who tries to rebuild his house and protect his little sister after the death of their parents.
"Taklub" shows the consequences of Haiyan, two years after the calamity. Based on fictionalized real testimonials, the story depicts how the survivors try to go on with their lives after their personal tragedies. The lives of three main characters, Bebeth, Larry and Erwin intertwine, as they search for the dead, and a series of events continue to test their endurance.
Mendoza, whose narrative style is introspective, captures the tension of hurricane’s aftermath by opening the scene with a fire caused by flames from a kerosene lamp, which devours a refugee family’s tent and their lives in minutes. This immediately sets the tone of the film where forces of nature unceasingly challenge the human spirit, inevitably unleashing raw emotions that are as devastating as the poverty of the survivors.
This realism has earned Mendoza criticism for indulging in “poverty porn.” Mendoza, 2009 Cannes best director for “Kinatay” and the man responsible for Jaclyn Jose’s 2016 Cannes best actress win for “Ma’ Rosa,” explains in an interview with Bayani San Diego, Jr., Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter: “I don’t respond to them. As long as you know why you are making films, you have nothing to worry about. What’s important is that you make films because you want change, because you care for your country.”
Will he ever make films about the wealthy? “I am not rich. I don’t know them. I am not familiar with their stories.”
Local Writer in Cast
SF Bay Area’s own Oscar Peñaranda, founding member of the Filipino American National Historical Society in San Francisco and award-winning writer (he was working on his own projects in the Philippines at the time of filming) shares some of his insights on Mendoza and the making of “Taklub.” He plays Larry’s father.
“He’s extremely talented and passionate about his work. Very focused. Seems like the best of our directors, like Mendoza, are more well-known in Europe than in the Philippines -- Filipino directors can learn so much from their films,” Peñaranda observes.
He adds, “Fortunately, he has put up a yearly Brillante Mendoza Film Workshop whose advocacy is to rethink and redefine cinema by sharing his knowledge and experience in filmmaking with a new generation.”
Mendoza told Philippine Star, ‘This is also my way of giving back and training new generations of filmmakers and storytellers.”
Peñaranda describes Aunor as “very professional and easy to work with. What they expect of her, she even goes beyond – and better. She still has a phenomenal appeal with the public. I was visiting my relatives in Leyte, and they barely asked how I was when I got there. They heard about the film so they were more excited to know about Nora Aunor and when she was going to be filming in Tacloban.”
“The film was shot in devastated areas of Tacloban, and most of the extras in the refugee camps were actual survivors, which lent more realism to the scenes. “They were happy to be part of the movie and were amused to hear me speak Waray – they knew me as a visitor from San Francisco, not realizing I spent my childhood in Leyte,” relates Peñaranda.
He explains how he ended up in the cast: “My friend Richie Quirino, a jazz musician and historian (was showing me around). I met Nilo Agustin who introduced me later on to Brillante Mendoza when I returned to Manila. I had a brief talk with Mendoza about my project and we agreed to meet again after that in Tacloban, his location for shooting. On our second meeting, I noticed he was looking at me intently like he was studying my face. Then he asked me if I’d like to act in a film. I said I had no experience, except in a play, ‘The Guerillas of Powell Street’ produced by Bindlestiff Studio in San Francisco. That settled it for him. Next thing I know, he had already made arrangements with his costume and make-up artists to prep me for some scenes which they were already starting to film. It was a lot of work but also a fun experience –- I won’t hesitate to do it again.”
The film’s universal messages is hope in the face of adversity, faith in the face of disaster and devastating loss, and a sense of acceptance to help one move forward. Although seemingly existential, it ends with a scripture from the Book of Ecclesiastes that offers a sense of continuity and redemption:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build…
If there is a part of the movie that gracefully demonstrates people living out this verse, it is the scene where they gather to celebrate, eat, laugh, sing and dance together in between the storms of life. The circle of life keeps turning.
Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.
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