Busong: Cannes 2011 Review

Busong - Movie Still - 2011
Cannes Film Festival
A visually and aurally delightful celebration of Philippine indigenous culture that is more mystifying than mystic.

A non-linear and generally incomprehensible tale of tribal life, death and rebirth from Filipino director Auraeus Solito.

CANNES -- Almost everyone gets sick or injured in Busong, and healing comes in the form spirituality, nature and discovering one’s roots. Aureaus Solito, who moved on from the prepossessing Manila-set gay coming-of-age charmer The Blossoming of Maximo Olivero to dipping his toes in Christo-shamanism in rural Philippine culture in the lesbian fantasy Tuli, scuba-dives headlong into recondite mysticism. He culls indigenous myths, music, dialects and shamanistic beliefs and practices belonging to his mother’s native Palawan region, and sprinkles them whimsically around a non-linear and generally incomprehensible tale of tribal life, death and rebirth.

Busong is of immense interest to researchers of South East Asian anthropology, as well as anyone planning a paradisiacal beach holiday, but it will be hard to market a film that will certainly leave any audience nonplused even in arthouse cliques.

Nevertheless, as scenes of pristine nautical beauty and sensuous masculine physicality testify, the film has higher aesthetic sensibility than just a cultural curio, and should find a spot in festivals.

The storyline, if there is one, maps the journey of Angkarang (Rodrigo Santikan), who carries his sister Punay (Alessandra de Rossi) in a hammock to find a cure for the running sores that cover her body. On their way, different people help her, though they themselves are on some kind of quest. To cure her sprained ankle, Ninita (Bonivie Budao) has vowed never to cut down an Amingus tree but when her husband Tony (Walter Arenio) gets going with a chainsaw, he suffers bigger injury. A fisherman (Dax Alejandro) uses the power of his amulet to cause stonefish stings to an avaricious white man’s feet (an abstruse allegory of U.S. political and economic colonialism?) but loses his son to the ocean. Aris (Clifford Banagale) comes from the capital in search of his Palawan roots, and fatefully becomes Punay’s healer.

The narrative hopscotches from forest to beach to mountain. The characters undergo indigenous shamanistic rituals that often lose their fascination due to their prolonged monotony. On the other hand, Louie Quirino’s superb underwater cinematography makes the marine creatures throb with life and move with ballet rhythm. The final scene, which features a magical metamorphosis of butterflies, is surreal yet truly beatific, and momentarily lifts the story into the realm of magic. Even Magritte would be impressed.

Busong loosely means “karma” or “fate.”

Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: Cinemalaya, Alternative Vision Cinema, Voyage Film Studios presents a Solito Arts Productions production
Cast: Alessandra de Rossi, Rodrigo Santikan, Bonivie Budao, Walter Arenio, Dax Alejandro, Clifford Banagale
Director-screenwriter-producer: Auraeus Solito
Screenwriter: Henry Burgos
Producers: Alfred Vargas, Chuck Gutierrez, Baby Ruth Villarama
Executive producer: Jong de Castro
Director of photography: Louie Quirino
Production designer: Hal Balbuena
Music: Basal Ensemble
Editor: Chuck Gutierrez
No rating, 133 minutes