By RYAN PIOLO U. VELUZ
FROM the main door of the church, wooden statues of Jesus Christ and various saints draw throngs of devotees and parishioners, either due to their divine significance or embellishment of sacred details and the linens of royalties attached to their lifeless structures. Illuminated by candles and elusive light bulbs, these inanimate sculptures seem to come to life through people’s extreme devotion and expression of faith.
Director Hiyas Bagabaldo’s entry to this year’s QCinema International Film Festival, Pag-ukit sa Paniniwala, is a documentary film that explores the different facets and expressions of Catholic faith in the Philippines. Set in Paete, Laguna, the carving capital of the country, the film deciphers the process of creating sculptures—how artists transform timbers into symbols of the divine—and how faith can be shaped by the convergence of art and religion.
Despite its slow progress in narrative development, the film mines its wonders from careful storytelling and subtle commentaries. Instead of hardcore cinematic discourse, a delicate exploration of the story is offered while avoiding abrupt transitions in crucial parts of the documentary. This is properly executed during the scenes where Mang Paloy, a veteran carver, showed the daily sacrifices and hardships in his work environment. The film successfully elaborated on the reality behind his profession while upholding the notion of a man-made sacred devotion.
The film’s unique identity is established through its hypnotic execution and vibe. Rich in spellbinding visuals and passages, the film may initially cause viewers to feel dumbfounded due to its peculiar presentation of sequences and overt captions in its unfolding narratives. This is evident in the fast-paced transitions among different religious activities, which served as a creative depiction of how these deviate from what is considered ideal by the Catholic Church.
Pag-ukit sa Paniniwala is loaded with cinematic shots from worm’s eye view to creative captures of even the smallest details in the film. This excellent execution is made possible through Bagabaldo’s expert direction and knowledge of what angle has the potential of radiating a compelling view to narrate a story.
Natural sounds from the film’s setting sometimes pose problems in terms of the narration’s clarity and overall presentation. However, it is commendable how the film manages to extract natural sound and blend it well with the technical background sounds. Instead of making it sound overly modernized, a powerful harmony between nature’s voice and man-made sound is established, enhancing scenes and creating a diversion from the serious tone of the film.
As the film progresses, it also successfully delivers a hypnotic rhythm that is artistically executed through the technique of using sudden but seamless cuts in between the scenes that feature religious activities. This is an indication of how the film intentionally portrayed a conflict between these traditions and other professions of faith.
Pag-ukit sa Paniniwala is arguably one of the bravest films of this year. The film questions an institution of power by using an artistic lens and by exposing realities through a factual depiction of what is commonly neglected by ordinary eyes: the essence of genuine devotion.
The film questions the faith of the viewers by giving them instances of intersection between art and religion—a phenomenon that can potentially blur the distinction between what is sacred and what is profane. As the film progresses, it also tackles how culture can contribute to the triviality of people’s expression of faith in today’s society.
As the hammer strikes the tensile surface of the wood, an image of the divine is gradually created, which acts as a reciprocal to the Catholic doctrine: creating God in man’s own image. F