Theodore Boborol, most famous for Star Cinema’s Just The Way You Are and Vince and Kath and James, tries his hand at the festival circuit through Iska. The gala night felt like two worlds colliding as prominent mainstream personalities came in droves to support their peer’s entry.
His experience in handling big-budget films is evident in Iska – with unobtrusive technicals that don’t take the attention away from the narrative. This proves to be a smart choice in fully realizing its Italian Neorealist influences. Built on a simple premise of caring for her mentally challenged grandson despite the odds, we focus on our hardy and determined titular character as she maneuvers around poverty-stricken Manila where misogyny, domestic violence, rape, and exploitation are all commonplace.
In the second half, Iska goes into full-on Bicycle Thief mode as she does whatever it takes to recover her grandson, spiraling her into desperation and helplessness. This whole segment of the film is painstakingly affecting to watch. She ironically ends up doing what she is accused of being – a sort of twisted, tragic play of fate for someone who doesn’t deserve it. There are concerns of it bordering on melodramatic, but I don’t see that as a negative. In fact, it reminds me tonally of old Filipino classics like Malvarosa and Anak Dalita, and that’s not bad company to be compared with.
It all relies on a strong central performance, and Boborol hit the jackpot by casting indie veteran Ruby Ruiz. This serves as her launching film, and she chews the scenery here! Her authentic portrayal elevates Iska’s material.
Cinemalaya 2019 is undoubtedly the year of women – Belle Douleur, Malamaya, Pandanggo Sa Hukay, and Iska all highlight different facets and stories of the contemportary Filipina. Taken together, they build a milieu that just calls to be studied. Film scholars, that’s an instant thesis topic for you!