Cinemalaya 2012 Review: JULIUS SOTOMAYOR CENA's MGA DAYO (RESIDENT ALIENS)


Julius Sotomayor Cena's Mga Dayo (Resident Aliens) examines the life of three Filipinos living with various statuses in Guam. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is that it situates its three stories involving the Philippine diaspora in Guam. Guam is a tiny island that is closer to the Philippines than it is to the United States. In fact, the history of the island is deeply intertwined with that of the Philippines. Filipinos comprise one fourth of the population of the island. Although English is widely spoken, the Filipinos living there converse among themselves using their native languages. The culture and location of the island is conducive to Filipinos seeking a better future. It has almost all of the benefits of America like the dollars, the abundance of employment, and the predictable living conditions, but with less of the cultural displacement.

The America of Cena's film is therefore oddly familiar, in a sense that the already stereotypical issues of immigration, whether it is the quiet or more pronounced manifestations of racial discomfort or the sudden absence of cultural integrity in a setting that feels so foreign, are avoided. Instead, the characters cope up with carious and issues, dilemmas involving the particular processes and setups that allow or disallow certain freedoms that dictate identity, employment, and stability. Cena, without insisting on the details, creates drama out of these processes, out of the much-wanted acquisition of the titular political status and the economic stability that comes along with it.

Alex (Sue Prado) has just been laid off from work and is now due to go home because of the expiration of her working visa. To prevent her deportation, she hesitantly agrees to marry her best friend. Ella (Olga Natividad), a supervisor in a local hotel, has been living in the island for several years already. Through her determination, she was able to raise a family and bring her 88-year old mother to Guam to live with her. However, her mother has fallen ill and needs fly back to the Philippines to recuperate. She then struggles to amass enough money to cover her mother's trip home and back. Miriam (Janela Buhain), a journalist who was also recently laid off, spends her day carousing with her friends, flirting with several men, and drowning her sorrows and insecurities with alcohol. She eventually ends her day with a bittersweet surprise from her husband.

The conflicts are very subtly played. They are barely there, manifesting only in telling trickles and occasional bursts, in moments where feelings and issues that are repressed by the routine comforts provided by the island have to be let out. That is the beauty of the film. Almost nothing happens. It simply breezes along, allowing the piled up seemingly inconsequential events of the day to erupt into an emotional climax.

The problems of diaspora Cena is interested in are more personal. It is less about the social malaise that migration provokes and more about the despair and frustration of those composing the diaspora. In the end, Guam will not stop because of the problems of a certain demographic. It will chugs along, whether or not these residents chug along with it. The hotels will fill up, its transient residents unaware of what ails the dutiful cleaners that are but phantoms in their presence. The city light up to prepare for the night. Behind closed doors, the displaced can only cry, away from the eyes and ears of those who are better off being born privileged within man-made borders.

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