Cinemalaya 2012: Aparisyon

Cloistered in a monastery located deep in the jungles, the secluded nuns in Aparisyon chose to serve their fellow men by serving the Lord. When the country was in turmoil during the tail-end of the Marcos regime, they chose to engage society through prayer, sending their invocations skyward hoping that Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary will answer their calls for peace. Like the many sacrifices they made when they took up their vocation, they also vowed to suppress the revolutionary spirit that swept through people’s hearts across the nation. The revolution should not happen there in their pristine sanctuary. Let the chaos wage outside, right where it belongs.

This passivity is something that Vincent Sandoval examines in this stunningly complex movie. He calls into question the decision to withdraw from worldly affairs that religions have advocated, particularly by some prominent voices in the Catholic Church. When evil hounds at your doorstep, is it acceptable to retreat into the realm of the spiritual as a substitute for political and social action?

This is a point he tries to make multiple times in many ways. These differing standpoints are personified through the monastery’s mother superior, Ruth (Fides Asensio), and Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon), a newly inducted nun. The former has been a dedicated servant of the Lord who advocates for spiritual solutions to tangible problems, while the latter is a headstrong nun who would rather help out in the rebellion. We aren’t really sure what the extent of her contributions is, but the point is nonetheless clear — she would rather put her life at risk by attending the rebels’ meetings rather than waste it through inaction. Amidst their ideological battle, one fought not through heated debates but through underhanded comments targeting each other’s theologies, Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria), a new nun that serves as our conduit to this insular world, gets caught up in this tug of war in ways that she did not expect.

This central tension is made more bluntly when a heinous crime happens, one that I will not talk in detail here. Sandoval seems to implicate people who have chosen to disengage themselves when they had the capacity to act out of a misguided sense of righteousness. He may be a little too one-sided, but at least his politics is clear: justice can never be achieved through prayer alone.

The film also dwells on the nature of suffering, and why it can’t and shouldn’t be reduced to simply as God’s will. While talking about the atrocities of the brutal police force under Marcos, Sister Remy decries it not as acts of God but as acts of men. She proposes an alternative framework to divine justice, one that is a little more retributive and one that draws more accountability to those who perpetrate evil. Because after all, you can only witness so much suffering without feeling the guilt of failing one’s moral obligation to assist, and guilt isn’t something purely corporeal that can be purged through self-inflicted pain and suffering akin to The Passion. Guilt grabs hold of one’s soul and will continue to eat at it mercilessly.

The film offers these rich discussions while showing lush shots of the vibrant Philippine jungles juxtaposed with the grim, claustrophobic halls of the nunnery. This is a wonderfully presented movie, whose profound themes are steeped in the film’s polished cinematography. Out of all the Cinemalaya films this year, this is bound to be one of the most thought-provoking films that will linger with you long after you’ve stepped out of the cinema for both its depth and its beauty.

  1. Stunningly complex? Polished? Thought-provoking? Hmmm… maybe I was just in a more critical mood when I saw this but I wasn’t as impressed. It’s a worthy enough effort but it just didn’t push any of my buttons. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve long tired of films shoehorning Martial Law or the EDSA revolution into their plots to lend gravitas to otherwise simplistic narratives. Several minor technical issues also left me wanting to get my hands on the working files of the film and just tweak them some more in Adobe Premiere Pro. Simple things like the overexposed, blown-out highlights, the way too brightly-lit night shots, the persistent background noise in the scenes at the Mother Superior’s office, and just the director’s predilection to s-l-o-w-l-y pan or l-i-n-g-e-r for several seconds on every “beauty shot” when it would be way more effective if he’d cut away after just a second or 2, or even how everybody seemed to be directed to move as if they were underwater. This is one film that really can be improved significantly by another round of post-prod, a tighter, more ruthless edit and some color-grading/light level adjustment can do wonders I believe. I wouldn’t tell people to shy away from Aparisyon, unlike some other people reviewing some other films (wink wink) but I would suggest would-be viewers to bring in a big cup of coffee and a bag of sugary snacks.

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