For more than a decade now, feminist film studies have become an important area of research for those involved in communication and media. We have landmark papers from Ana Cosio and Joni Gutierrez, and even production projects from Adjani Arumpac and Mae Caralde. They all critically explore women’s stories in a myriad of aspects and how their representation on film articulates that reality.
She Andes’ Pandanggo sa Hukay falls into this tradition. It is by and large an advocacy film – a film by women for women as She shares during the gala screening – and is unapologetically so. It has all the small details that are found in works of its kind: mothering, female bonding, relationships, sexuality, sexual health, and even self-pleasure! Pandanggo treat them as natural and commonplace, which is effective in not sensationalizing these experiences.
At the center of the narrative is Elena: a resilient, unfaltering heroine whose tranquil existence is interrupted by an unfortunate incident. The second half is hard to watch as she is subjected to all kinds of torture. And I think it elicits that type of reaction because of how well we got to know her in the first half. How can such a giving, selfless, positive woman whose sole goal is to provide for her son be subjected to unimaginable horror? We come to the sad truth that life in the Philippines is still unfair and unjust to women – patriarchal, misogynistic, sexist tendencies persist, and a lot more needs to be done to ensure there is genuine change.
This doesn’t just hold true to Elena but to other supporting characters as well, particularly Tisay. Without giving too much away, how the movie wraps it all together is one for the books and will possibly be analyzed by film scholars to death. The end feels like a win – and effects the audience with vigor to ensure it continues to be so.