Birdshot: Of Baffling Bloody Battles

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INNOCENCE IS oftentimes associated with something that is clean, untainted, or untouched. One can represent it through fresh white bed sheets, or by the skin of a newborn. Yet it is a universal truth that they are unable to remain spotless, such as when women, while in their sleep, spill their monthly blood discharge, or when infants inadvertently have their arms or legs scraped while playing in their wooden cribs. Although it is possible to have them cleansed, there will still be stains stamped on the surface, no matter how effortful the form of effacing may be.

In Birdshot, Mikhail Red’s award-winning coming-of-age entry for the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, innocence and its loss are introduced to the viewers like the wings of an eagle expanding in a slow fashion. It is presented through two characters—one is a teenager while the other is a married man—ensnared in two separate situations that, in the final act, are wondrously weaved.

The film follows the life of Maya (Mary Jane Apostol), a farmer’s daughter who is in her early phase of womanhood. Her teenage years, however, differ from that of other children for she is taught by her father ways of survival, such as shooting targets using an old rifle. Yet unlike him, she is softhearted to strike even the smallest bird. That is until her interest is piqued by a howling in the distance, and she trespasses a private sanctuary for endangered Haribons, one of which she has gunned down.

Meanwhile, a bus boarded by ten farmers to Manila has gone missing at night, and police officers Domingo (Arnold Reyes) and Mendoza (John Arcilla) are tasked to track the bus down. Upon finding it abandoned in the fields, Domingo comes to discover hints, such as the red cloth imprinted with the initials “HDC” and the washed out photograph of a farmer, leading to a possible foul play. As soon as he begins to make sense out of the case, their chief assigns them a new task: to track down the missing Haribon.

The film runs as a two-hour exploration on curiosity anchored on innocence. It stretches the idea to realistically expose the consequences of submitting to interests. However, it breaks from the typical trope of serendipitous discoveries by adopting the naturalist theme that is violence. Thus, it is the concept of curiosity that endangers, that taints the ingenuous self with trauma.

Red also renders tension on the part of the viewers through dimly lit scenes and silence. Events are also foreshadowed through the juxtaposition of elements. Tension, then, crawls snake-like beneath the skin and swallows the viewers whole.

Apostol, although new in the craft, delivers her young character naturally. With her small voice, she questions almost everything she notices. She also giggles in simple joys such as playing fetch with her dog Bala, and watching the sunset from the fields. Her consciousness is much grounded on the freshness of youth, and it is through the unfolding of events that it turns progressive.

Aside from appearing as a social commentary, Birdshot also delves into the personal through demystifying innocence’s other images: one that manifests in a much matured state, and another associated with terror. This terror, however, is never a single hit. Instead, it takes its time. F

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