By MARIA PAMELA S. REYES
HISTORY HAS taught people many things, from mistakes to mind breaking discoveries. At the same time, it fails to tell everything. These are memories that are forgotten and unrecognized by the present – untold stories that scar not only the people but also its nation.
Directed by Alvin Yapan and written by Ricky Lee, Culion is an entry in the 2019 Metro Manila Film Festival. As derived from its title, it sheds light on the seldom discussed island of Culion – the Philippines’ largest leprosarium during the American occupation, which housed almost a thousand people affected by the disease. It focuses on the perspectives of three women with leprosy: Ana (Iza Calzado), a determined and strong-minded woman, who believes she still has a chance to leave the leper colony; the politically outspoken Ditas (Meryll Soriano) who firmly voices out her sentiments towards the American occupation; and Doris (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), the epitome of naivety.
Adorned with well-known veteran leads, one of Culion’s strongest points lies in its cast. With their skilled abilities, the three leads had breathed life and given their own charm to their characters, leaving the audience awed by their performances. For one, Calzado’s breakdown during the middle part of the film grips the audience’s heart in her wailing due to longing and pain.
Meanwhile, Soriano plays Ditas perfectly with her relatable view towards politics as well as her yearning for her past lover.
Lastly, Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s acting as Doris gives the viewer comfort. Through her acting, she is able to endear herself to both the audience and the leper colony’s children in the film.
Alongside these amazing women are the commendable second leads such as the likes of Suzette Ranillo as Nay Mameng, the head nurse of the area who dedicated her whole life to help the colony. Ranillo’s powerful lines, as she bluntly tells the island’s residents of the harsh reality they are facing, makes the audience favor her beliefs.
Accompanying the heart-wrenching and suspenseful film is a wonderful musical score. Each song used accentuates the grief the cast is showing. At the same time, the filmmakers used the island of Culion’s scenery to its potential. The lush forests and blue ocean that surround the colony give life to the film. The sound of the crashing waves reminds the audience that these lepers are confined to an island they may never escape from.
However, one of the film’s weaknesses is its night shots. In some scenes, the audience could barely see what is happening because the lighting is too dark. This can be observed at the very beginning of the film when the characters are being introduced and it continues throughout the majority of the film. Nevertheless, this may also be intentional in order to give off more realism.
Overall, the film shows the stigma that was present against lepers during historical times. It touches on the discrimination that they face and it educates people, especially those who are not affected by it. Concurrently, the film also tackles feminism and how women were treated during the American occupation. This can be witnessed through the eyes of the three main characters as they overcome adversities in their daily situation.
Nevertheless, despite its heavy themes, Culion also reminds the audience of the simple joys in life. At the end of the day, no matter how much struggle one may go through, the small things like nature, a good meal, and loved ones are always there. These are the insignificant matters people tend to take for granted but when one starts to appreciate these, it makes one realize how beautiful life can be. F