Cinema One Originals 2010: THE DREAM OF ELEUTERIA Review

In To Siomai Love (2009), director Remton Zuasola tells the story of two strangers who meet in a street-side eatery and eventually fall in love. Making use of only one shot that deliberately follows the strangers in their minutest of romantic gestures and most exciting of mundane discussions, the film brings its audience into the picture as quiet observers of love being birthed from the strangest of circumstances. Perhaps the film's biggest fault is that it succumbed to revel in its technique when it concluded with the entire film rewinding to reveal a twist that ultimately betrays the seductive honesty Zuasola masterfully sustained for several minutes.

 

In Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria (The Dream of Eleuteria), his debut feature length film, Zuasola also makes use of a single shot to document the Terya leaving the island where she has lived her entire life. It is very easy to either praise or criticize the film for its audacious storytelling method. The single shot especially limits the scope of the narrative, keeping it within a certain time frame and the geography that is allowed by the logistics of that single shot. Zuasola thus limits the film to the hour and a half prior to Terya's departure, patiently capturing everything that happens from when Terya is discovered submerged in the ocean to when she embarks the pumpboat that will bring her to the airport that will ultimately bring her to faraway Germany.

 

So Terya, following the wishes of her mother to escape from the impoverished life her father can only provide for them, is to leave for Germany to marry an older man. Within that hour or so when the camera follows Terya and her family as they walk to the port, Zuasola deliberately unravels the pains and frustrations that are deeply hidden within the spoken ambitions of the people around Terya. Terya, on the other hand, quietly enduring the outspoken rationalizations of her mother and the submissive affirmations of her father during the first half of the film, only bursts into the picture midway, revealing what could possibly be is an irreversibly hurt heart, especially when it is her dream that was bartered for the dream of a better life for her family.

 

This precursor to Terya's lifelong journey fleshes out the mismatched rationales that ultimately push Terya to commit herself to a loveless union. The masterful camerawork, the very apt music that drowns the visuals and becomes the supporting backdrop when it needs to, the courageously convincing acting of the entire cast that blurs all moral condescension, and the narrative that naturally flows without need of a single cut all, communicate the emotions that pulsate as Terya nears the demise of her very own dream. In the end, despite the mostly mundane goings-on that comprise most of Zuasola's film, it still holds for its purposes the poignant reality that poverty has skewed the very purpose of ambitioning, pushing people to break familial ties, to dessert pained lovers, to abandon the country for the dream of a better life.

 

Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, much more than exposing the physical state of the country because of the abject poverty that pervades it, exposes the dissipating values that are only natural repercussions of that poverty that has become cliché in the so-called national cinema. That the gorgeous vistas shown in the film hardly represent the social and economic decay that is actually thriving therein makes the film's careful attempt to expound on the more intimate state of the nation more resonant, more resonant in fact than the films whose supposedly pertinent advocacies or themes are worn on their sleeves. Zuasola, despite the near-perfect use of the one shot which clearly establishes him as one of more talented young filmmakers nowadays, thankfully disappears and does not commit the brilliant although self-serving conclusion in To Siomai Love, allowing Terya and her indisputable pain that we've become familiar with to occupy the spotlight.

 

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)

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