In the quietness and slowness of Hector Barretto Calma’s Ang Mga Bulong sa Bituka ng Sta. Mesa (lit. Murmurs From The Somber Depths Of Sta.Mesa), the viewer begins to ask–are they lost? Are they a hopeless case of people we do not even know?
SYNOPSIS: The film is composed of black and white images from the somber depths of Sta.Mesa (Manila, Philippines) which are juxtaposed in its railroad that metaphorically connects the lives of each individual in the community. (IMDB.com)
It is haunting how a shot stays with you. The subjects are just there, obviously aware that their moments of nothingness are being captured. Sometimes the subjects break the fourth wall, but they don’t necessarily talk to the camera. There is just that awkward look, a sense of questioning if, maybe, they are doing something wrong.
There is a story in the quietness, when they do not talk but the background noise does. It paints Sta. Mesa with all its failed promises and rejected ambitions. The ambient sounds are those of engines, all symbolically pertaining to the development that Manila should have had by now–a city that never sleeps, where time, among many other things, is fast and moving. Yet how affecting it is that the supposed boredom in seeing them do their daily tasks, realizing it must have been a tiresome routine they do every single day, is not boring to watch at all. Rather, it drains us and makes us wonder–is this what life will ever be?
Calma’s agenda is palpable with the recurring theme of the characters’ answers. What is your favorite subject in school? What is your highest educational attainment? Do you miss school? You hear the disillusion from the answers of those who did not finish school, their what-ifs in life had they earned a diploma. Perhaps, they stand a chance, but it is all lost from the shattered, well-known reality that even those who earned a degree cannot find one.
A perspective of the film is set in P.U.P. Sta. Mesa, the battlefield of those who can only afford the cheapest of tuition fees in this third world country. An activist narrates his fight for full state subsidy, just like any radical activist does. It is a vital aspect of the film because it did not stop on only presenting the side of those whose chances were lost in time, and instead the film also showed those who stand a fighting chance to get out of a life they did not ask for.
It is very telling in my favorite scene of the film. In a very long scene, a 15-year old lad is pushing the cart in the railroad, and in the background is the voice over of a retired professor talking about one of the poor students he knew who later on would become successful in life. The contradiction is very depressing. There it is–a story of hope embedded in the background, yet the visuals present us a story of someone, who, if we just realize, would be moving that cart several times a day for who knows until when in his life.
I forgot to ask Director Calma why he chose Sta. Mesa. It is not as dirty or as symbolic as Tondo, but rugged nonetheless, even in black-and-white. One writer said “Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din” (lit. Even Tondo Has Heaven), but such is also the case in Sta. Mesa. With education as a major theme in the film, P.U.P. is the melting pot of hope in this section of Manila that has been filled with forgotten dreams and state neglect.
A quotation of Manuel Quezon was shown in the beginning of the film. “Ang daing ng maralita ay maririnig lang ng kapwa maralita (The voice of the poor will only be heard by the poor)”. Isn’t it ironic? That the people who could see the film are people who could afford to buy a movie ticket? But the film tries to transcend from one socioeconomic class to another. It talks to those blinded by the notions of progress while forgetting that poverty is not just an idea, a campaign propaganda, a rhetoric or a product of wild imagination, but rather a real state of living experienced not by those who are comfortably seated in the air-conditioned movie theater.
SIDENOTE: Today is Labor Day. As Karl Marx said, “Workers of the world, unite; we have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win!” Mabuhay ang mga manggagawa!