Caramoan – a beautiful slice of the Bicol coast with white sand, clear waters, friendly Bicolanos, and lush natural resources, but also witness to one of the decade’s most violent injustices. A massacre occurred in a small town called Gata, where an armed group of “environmental patrollers” occupied a small-scale ball mill and accused the timid citizens of illegal mining. Four miners were brutally shot one evening, before the patrollers escaped the island. The incident shattered the peace of their town and Gata was dominated by silence and fear, no matter how hard their loving and diligent barangay chairperson pulls them back together.
This was the tragedy that inspired Alvin Yapan’s latest film ORO (Spanish word for “gold” or “ginto”). Clearly straight to the point and relentless in its social realism (complete with Dutch angles and shaky camerawork), Yapan does not shy away from maximizing hard truths. He shot the film in Caramoan, got several of the finest and most convincing leads, and an investigative screenplay that draws the incidents leading to the massacre. But while ORO can claim its prizes on social awareness, it is not a perfect film. The film falls back on its own presentation. Take for instance its incohesive use of flashbacks and the flawed editing, while imminent danger failed to simmer once Yapan chose to go ahead with the entrance of villains without even much to know about his heroes. And oftentimes, the villains exhibit a misplaced campiness that wouldn’t be lost in an FPJ movie. All the grit seemed to overwhelm the very ironic stance of the actual Bicolano setting, subsiding the fact that these people used to be very happy even without money.
Yet you got to give props for Alvin Yapan for shedding light on a locale that otherwise would only be known as a surfing spot (you can even handpick the coverboy governor as your superficial Exhibit A). Relying on the actors’ prowess to move the narrative forward, ORO worked best as an actor’s film complete with fine turns from Irma Adlawan, Sue Prado and Mercedes Cabral. While several of the film’s metaphors may not fit well into the narrative, ORO echoes Iñárritu’s AMORES PERROS, juicing irony not from the condition of human characters but from their best friends, the dogs.
Like BARBER’S TALES, ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN before it, and even NUNAL SA TUBIG way way before it, the grit and drama of ORO is more than enough to alarm audiences of brutal injustices in the country’s fringes. It is very brave to have been done and entered in the most commercial of local film festivals; even Yapan had second thoughts in making it. But unlike documentaries, the makers of ORO know the power of fiction to ignite the fire on certain things we probably may have forgotten, on pressing matters easily ignored, and to draw viewers to investigate on hidden narratives that may be lurking around. When Eugene Domingo exclaims satirically “Suffering! E suffering na nga e, bakit pa imamaximize?!” in her own MMFF vehicle, you know she may have a point on escapism. But then again, Alvin Yapan’s film slaps the audience right back to the seats to utter just one question – who, then, will maximize it?
While a handful of MMFF patrons may ignore Yapan’s ORO, real life coverage has not been attentive to the true story that inspired it. Here is a video documenting the tragic massacre in Gata: