By TAFFY ARELLA M. BERNALES
GRADE 5-MALUSOG has a secret and it occurs whenever the clock strikes noon. With the door slammed shut and curtains drawn close, the clandestine “Baon Royale” takes place and it is “the coolest competition in school”— or so they thought.
Under the direction of Grace Clarisse Cinco, Baon Royale is a short film that bagged Sine Reel 2019 awards for Best Picture and Best Editing as well as the Maginhawa Film Festival award for Best Film in Student Category (2020). One might think that a film set within an elementary school and carried out by child actors would have a simple plot. Yet, Baon Royale goes beyond this impression by subtly showcasing a microcosm of society through innocence.
The film centers on a section of fifth-graders (5-Malusog) who partake in a “fun game” for lunchtime instead of simply enjoying their meals. In this game, students secretly compete for whoever brings the most delicious lunch in the section.
Within the corners of a well-lit classroom set with science projects and colorful chalk, Baon Royale is spearheaded by two kids: Maestro (Kenjie Tabor) and Pangulo (Lens Ricafort). Submission to their authority is established to the point that Baon Royale becomes a routine no one dares to break.
Maggie (Lhian Khey Gimeno), as a new student, faces pressure as she plays the game. Though not questioning the mechanics of the system as a whole, she becomes the reason why the section’s culture changes later on in the film. Why 5-Malusog holds Baon Royale is never answered, yet the film’s conflict resolution reveals an irony behind the section’s name— or perhaps, the class’s true secret.
The perceived child-friendly competition reflects society’s larger-scale hierarchy and conformity to its rules. Come judgment hours, Cinco’s blocking direction clarifies who is in charge of power whenever Maestro and Pangulo are always elevated or put at the center.
In real life, one will simply go with this flow like Maggie to avoid getting “kicked out” of the set community. Gimeno’s portrayal of Maggie as a shy outcast mirrors the difficulty of fitting in a new group and the deep desire of gaining their approval.
Besides the film’s representation of society through the lens of hierarchies in a simple classroom, Baon Royale is jam-packed with a unique style of cuts and transitions. This is seen in Hannie’s (Riyen Antonette Untalan) explanation of the competition’s rules is told via simultaneous shots of food, which was divided into panels similar to that of a manga. This comic-like style is often integrated into the film’s storytelling, further emphasizing the characters’ reactions and enhancing viewer impression over food delectability.
The good visuals are also well-supported by the musical score that is kept upbeat almost all throughout the film. This lively accompaniment of music subtly induces anticipation within viewers. An example of these are the scenes wherein students would patiently wait for Maestro’s judgment on Baon Royale’s winner of the day. The music also consistently puts the audience in the blended mood of fun and seriousness as they follow through the kids’ competition.
In addition to the effective editing and score, the overall aura projected by the film exudes youthfulness as an adult’s presence in the narrative was very sparse. The story flow is also very entertaining with the superb acting from the main characters and the collective reactions of the class.
Axcel Ferreras is particularly commendable as Troy; his facial expressions allow audiences to feel a particular scene’s mood. Ferreras’s portrayal of Troy’s confident and fun-loving nature is evident, especially during the food presentation scenes.
Meanwhile, Untalan’s Hannie draws audiences in with bubbliness and convincing line delivery. However, mild confusion can arise in a scene wherein Untalan suddenly breaks the fourth wall while eagerly telling Maggie about Baon Royale. Nevertheless, this can also be taken as a tactic for audience engagement.Overall, Baon Royale’s message goes beyond mere unlocking of lunchboxes for high tally scores. It is a package that, when unboxed, mirrors reality in which hierarchies are enforced. Its optimistic view on change through action is shown in how the flawed system was fixed when compassion starts to take over. F