REVIEW: ‘Mindanao’ the movie:  A narrative juxtaposed with narratives of other tribes can be confusing

Mindanao, the movie directed by multi-awardee Director Brillante Ma Mendoza that stars Judy Ann Santos,Allen Dizon and Yuna is a movie told thru the use of Sulayman and Indarapatra an epic. In the Maranao epic, there are four evils downsized to two dragons out to eat human beings in the movie. The colored drawings are interspersed with in the movie as Saima continues to relate the epic to her daughter, afflicted with cancer.

Saima Datupalo is a Maguindanao mother of four-year old Aisa played by Yuna, and wife to Malang Datupalo, a Technical Sergeant  with the Armed Forces of the Philippines assigned in Maguindanao. Saima brings Aisa, suffering from cancer to Davao. She begs her husband to spend time with his family. He proceeds to join the military operation. Saima at the House of Hope dances the Malong Malong with the other mothers, including Ruby Ruiz.

As wounded soldiers are brought in to the hospital, the doctor asks: “What is his religion? And, a soldier answers: Muslim. Had more research been done, the right response should have been, Islam. The religion is Islam and the adherents are called Muslims.

The Singkil, Malong- Malong (both are Maranao dances) and Pangalay ha Patong (Tausug) are performed and Saima dances while little Aisa is having her seizures. To the uninformed, the dances might appear to come from one Muslim ethnic group, but that is not so. The original Maranao Singkil is danced on two bamboo poles, but Bayanihan stylized it to four criss-crossed bamboo poles. Bayanihan also crafted the Malong-malong dance. Pangalay ha Patong is indigenous to the Tausugs and Sama. I remember, the Philippine Women’s University invited us, the CNI (Commission on National Integration) Dayang Dayang dance troupe in the 1970s to perform the Pangalay ha Patong at Nayong Pilipino while they were recording our dance.

In the movie, the doctor warns Saima that the four-year old girl has little chance to survive. Eventually, Aisa dies. Saima quietly grieves for Aisa, leaving her in the morgue, showing no emotion as she goes to the military to inform Malang who was in an operation in Maguindanao.

Malang prays the Al Fatiha for a dead Muslim rebel combatant. Allen should have done more research to do justice to the prayer in Arabic. Compared to Saima, Judy does the prayer and comes out successful.

During the operation in the hinterlands, Buddy is killed and Malang grapples with his emotion as he himself is hurt not knowing of his daughter’s death. At one point, Epy questions Malang’s loyalty to the government in the face of fighting Maguindanao rebels. How many of our Muslim brothers are caught in this situation?

Saima performs quietly the ablution for the dead on her daughter and Aisa is buried before the sun sets. Malang arrives the following day and together with Saima visits her grave. Afterwards, Malang requests for dependency discharge from the AFP and both return  to the House of Hope to end the story of Sulayman and Indarapatra with Saima choosing to tell the story to a child like her own. She tells the value of being able to grieve for a loved one. The movie ends with Saima and Malang riding a Moro vinta at Ligauasan with the sails  indigenous to the brave and colorful Tausugs, Sama and Badjao.

Mindanao is a multiculturally diverse region and any narrative that tends to jumble all the major tribes, Maranao, Maguindanao and Tausug into one suffers from narrative shortcomings.

Mendoza uses the colored drawings to tell the story to a child. There is nothing wrong about that except that in the epic, Indarapatra and Sulayman are two brothers while in the movie, the brothers are Raja and Sulayman.

Mindanao is a narrative juxtaposed with narratives of other tribes and to non Mindanaoan, this can be confusing. This is the fault of the writer. In using the Sulayman and Indarapatra epic to tell the story of Saima, Aisa and Malang, she fuses other narratives that belong to other Muslim tribes. It is confusing. To many Filipinos who are unaware of the diverse Muslim multicultural societies in the Mindanao region with their own proud histories to tell, they will take Mindanao in one narrative. Perhaps for them Mindanao is the story. If only Direk Mendoza cared to consult other Muslim scholars, then a more cohesive and definitive narrative would have resulted. Be that as it may, I have high hopes that Director Mendoza will continue to meg other narratives.

I was just happy to see my acting mentor, Ms Ruby Ruiz, for my movie the highly acclaimed Women of the Weeping River. The narrative in WWR is certainly not confusing.

In Mindanao, Ms.Judy Ann Santos portrays the role of Saima perfect to a tee.She understands the understated quiet grieving that we mothers are culturally accustomed in our respective Muslim societies. Her quiet grief brings tears when she brought Aisa near the road and as she embraces her child, her expression of sadness makes the sight of losing a child so deep. One has to be immersed in this situation to understand what losing a child means to a mother. How she is able to grapple the loss with a post methodical action of doing things in the absence of her husband is so profound. We ask ourselves, can we do it the way she does it?

Mindanao has won ten of the twelve awards in the recent Metro Manila Film Festival even as it has not scored heavily in the movie receipts. Despite that, let Mindanao serve as an inspiration for other directors with other narratives to tell, just please do not jumble us altogether.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Sharifa Pearlsia P. Ali-Dans recently retired as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. She was a Fulbright Philippines Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at the University of Texas in Austin form 1990 to 1991 and a PROBE RLMC (Project in Basic Education –Regional Learning Materials Center) AusAId Fellow in 1997 at the Southbank Institute of TAFE in Brisbane, Australia. She posted this piece on her FB wall on January 7, 2020. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this).