THERE is this scene a good 30 minutes into Liway, an entry to this year’s Cinemalaya, when political prisoners Day (Glaiza de Castro) and Ric (Dominic Roco) tie a rope around a tree top in order to propel their inquisitive son Dakip (Kenken Nuyad) up the tree and allow the little boy to view scenes from the world outside for the first time. Up until that moment, Dakip has only seen the grounds within Camp Delgado, a detention facility for criminals and political prisoners alike during the time of martial law.
The parents, while behind bars for rebellion, are raising their 10-year-old son and an infant daughter named Malaya. Rico prefers to tell his son about their real situation but Day will not have any of it. She prefers to feed Dakip with fantastical stories about a powerful enchantress named Liway of Mount Kanlaon. Romanticizing their struggle, in the mother’s eyes, will lessen its blow on her kid.
An indignant film at its very core, Liway is punctuated with tender yet heartbreaking scenes such as that aforementioned. There are detours into Day’s past as a provincial lass who becomes a target due to her leftist leanings. She is forced to go underground, meets Ric there, and gives birth to their firstborn inside the prison.
The beauty of Liway as a film lies in its power to evoke emotions deemed long dead and ideals perceived as largely forgotten. When the horrors of life inside the cell unfold, it becomes a canvas of a myriad of faces, stories and pains. It becomes bigger than just one family’s woes.
There is the man whose daughter mistakes fireworks for gunfire. And a woman (played convincingly by Sue Prado) whose son dies while prisoners are being segregated into female and male.
The chase scenes in the forest leave much to be desired, perhaps due to budget constraints, but it’s easy to forego such flaws in the face of the film’s overwhelming merits.
The performances are uniformly above par, including those of Dominic Roco as Dakip’s father whose every movement, stare and emotional outpouring mirror the deepest sentiments of his character; Ebong Joson, who’s in his best elements; and Soliman Cruz, who doesn’t hit a false note as the sympathetic warden.
No doubt Kenken Nuyad’s Dakip character is a pivotal part of the film and one wished that the casting for this role had been more thorough. One, he should have a bit of semblance to the actors portraying his parents; and two, a more charismatic child actor could’ve elevated the film from very good to bravura levels. Also, just a small quibble—for a child who supposedly has never gone to school, Dakip sometimes speaks like a wise adult.
As Day (a.k.a. Kumander Liway), Glaiza de Castro gives a performance that surpasses the wonders she’s done with her many past roles. Her tendency to play to the gallery as a TV actress has been tempered, and we’re assuming it is through the guidance of the film director. If a character makes you root for her and her brood to pull through their difficult station with their spirit unbroken, then she must be one hell of a good actor. Toward the film’s end, when a cliffhanger makes you wonder what’s happened to the political prisoners who have been led out of the camp, eventually revealing that the dictator has fled to Hawaii, it’s hard to resist joining in on the celebration of the triumph of good over evil.
Writer-filmmaker Kip Oebanda, the real Dakip, who drew on personal childhood memories to tell this powerful story, has come up with his most accomplished work to date. And we will not be surprised if he and his team will bring home a few of the major Balanghai trophies from the Cinemalaya on recognition night.