Pamilya Ordinaryo: A Painful Paradox of Poverty


photo taken from San Diego Asian Film Festival

AN INVISIBLE line is drawn when directing and creating films about poverty. There must be a reason behind the grotesque and an answer after the turbulence. Pamilyang Ordinaryo has bravely let go of the latter, but its gritty and realistic attempt to portray the impoverished people living in Manila has succumbed more to sadism rather than a lesson.

Pamilya Ordinaryo, a 2016 film directed by Eduardo Roy, depicts the fatal loss of two young lovers, 16-year-old Jane Ordinaryo (Hasmin Kilip) and the father of her child, 17-year-old Aries (Ronwaldo Martin). They are an impoverished pair, struggling to feed themselves as they crawl through the bustling streets of Manila for a pittance of money or mouthfuls of food. They banter, sleep on cardboard, weather the cold of the Manila nights, and steal for a living. Their attempt at living in normalcy, however, is cut short. As Jane’s son, Arjan, gets stolen from her, she is thrown into a world of loss. 

Roy has absolved everything romantic in the film: it trails the story of a couple that curses one another on the daily. They hit each other, call each other insults. What little love they do is shot in the public harshness in Manila, where the lighting has been neutered to a dull, almost sickening yellow during the night. 

There is no score in the film, which further adds to its notion of urgency, even when the pacing is slow. The inciting incident does not happen until a good thirty-five minutes into the story, but until then, the rich cast of characters are trickled in. 

The cinematography is unsettling enough to become corporeal. The camera is unconfident, shaky, and held on-hand, as if akin to careful trudging. Roy often changes perspective to that of a surveillance camera, and when this happens it is difficult not to hold one’s breath. Every scene shot in grainy CCTV footage is a sick wink to a disaster: a murder takes place, a phone is plucked from a passerby’s hand, a baby is stolen, and so on.

Kilip’s performance of Jane is stellar. She delivers her lines in barks and with gusto, but she can also portray heartbreak beautifully. When she is mourning the loss of her child, she does not say anything at first as her expressions do so instead. Her eyes turn deadpan and her cheeks become taut with sorrow. The rest of the cast exercise good dynamic with each other as well, but Kilip steals every scene she is in

There are societal conundrums Pamilya Ordinaryo raises confidently, but at the climax of resolving its own questions, the film falls short. It does well with questioning to what extent can people do harm as Jane and Aries have already dipped their toes in stealing. After they lose their son, they have submerged themselves deeper into crime. 

The engaging conflict the film centers itself in is also its double-edged sword. It paints the film in so much pain, doing away any moral lessons to be learned and replacing it purely with grim. Pamilya Ordinaryo is exhaustingly difficult to watch as Jane and Aries are both sexualized, exploited, deceived, lied to, and harassed constantly. The cheek-chew of trauma flutters through the screen and becomes unbearable to view. 

There is a tragic irony to this film that becomes evident as it ends—even when the film depicts the media’s exploitation of poor people, it cannot help itself from doing the same. In an attempt to keep the viewers engaged, Jane and Aries must consistently and continuously suffer. This makes the movie no different from the antagonists they were trying to portray. That being said, what it lacks in cohesiveness, it retaliates in its cinematography and presentation. Every second watching the film is a second spent in tension.

The movie is heartbreaking but still unsatisfying. Watching Pamilya Ordinaryo in one sitting becomes less enjoyable and more of a feat of patience. In the film’s attempt to convey the lives of people living in poverty, it has festered itself into a paradox: it started somewhere, attempted a journey elsewhere, only to come back unresolved. It raises questions and gradually covers them with more. There is no concise conclusion, the accumulation of Jane’s painful adventures amounts to nothing.

Overall, Pamilyang Ordinaryo is not an easy film to watch, but it is important. It stirs the humanity among its viewers, gives rise to discourse, and beckons reflection.

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