Firefly: A Journey to Serenity

Screengrab from GMA Network’s Firefly Trailer/Youtube

FIREFLIES DO NOT glow in the city. They shy away from a community blinded by streetlights and backlit devices, devoid of their habitat in the metropolis.

However, in the company of nature, where the rustling of leaves and insects abound, these fireflies, or mga alitaptap, are a sight to behold. They illuminate the night around the trees and inside caves. From the dark, can fireflies light the way to love, strength and rebirth?

Firefly is a fantasy film that follows a writer who is about to win an award for an illustrated story based on the bedtime tale his mother used to tell him. This story will be an allegory to his and his mother’s journey in the pursuit of a peaceful life.

Screengrab from GMA Network’s Firefly Trailer/Youtube

It was written by Angeli Atienza and directed by Zig Dulay, the filmmakers behind Love You Stranger (2022) and Black Rainbow (2021), respectively. Firefly premiered nationwide in cinemas on Dec. 25, 2023, as part of the successful 49th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

The film starts with an adult, Anthony Alvaro (Dingdong Dantes), who is bound to receive an award for “Firefly,” a book he produced. A reporter interviews him as the former doubts the originality of Anthony’s work.

Anthony then narrates the story of his life as a young child (Euwenn Mikaell) living with his mother, Elay (Alessandra de Rossi), a bananacue vendor. He gets bullied by the kids in the neighborhood and perceives himself as not brave enough, as he is small and cannot fight them back. Elay assures him that he is stronger than he thinks, and the viewers can see that as well, having been able to escape despite the bullies teaming up against him. She then retells him his favorite bedtime story about the firefly and the butterfly. Later on, young Anthony, or Tonton, vows to go to the isla ng mga alitaptap with his mom, carrying the wish to be more fearless.

Screengrab from GMA Network’s Firefly Trailer/Youtube

Soon, unfortunately, his mother succumbs to cancer and “goes on first to the island of the fireflies,” and he sets out on his journey to meet her again.

Firefly showed themes of poverty, grief and trauma, a reality for most poor Filipino families. People can relate to the characters because of their lighthearted way of coping with problems. The use of vernacular language helped the story to be conversational and accessible to the people. The movie relied heavily on metaphors, as seen when the travelers struggled to decipher which place was signified by the illustration and the symbolic name.

The supporting characters Billy (Miguel Tanfelix), Erika (Ysabel Ortega), and Louie (Epy Quizon) were given a backstory of their own. The audience can feel the dilemma caused by not knowing how to deal with Tonton, with the frustration manifesting in the actors’ voices, dialogue, and actions. Several Bicol landmarks were also referenced, such as Mayon Volcano and Mount Bulusan.

The actors were well-picked and lived up to their roles. De Rossi embodied the character of a caring mother and has shown that she deserves more main character roles. MMFF best child performer Mikaell let his performance do the justification for the award he garnered, having communicated to the audience the emotions, curiosity and grief of a child. Even the supporting actors showed their prowess in the film, especially veteran actor Quizon, who made the audience feel that there was something in his character to unearth the first time the camera panned at him.

Some of the actors in the film also appeared in other MMFF entries, such as Dingdong Dantes and Jaime Fabregas in Rewind and Gomburza, respectively.

The film made use of Arlene Calvo’s rendition of Eraserheads’ Alapaap as its soundtrack. The song was a good choice as it talked about the place where fireflies thrive and one can let down their guard, just like in Nanay Elay’s arms. Its use in the film gave it a new meaning.

Screengrab from GMA Network’s Firefly Trailer/Youtube

However, using an existing song as a soundtrack, especially one as popular as Alapaap, had its drawbacks, as it cannot be tailor-made according to the film’s necessities and would likely be remembered independently from the movie.

Aside from bagging the awards for best child performer and best screenplay, Firefly also won best picture in the film festival. This award should come as no surprise, as the film’s visuals were impeccable and enchanting. The surroundings looked vivid in keeping with the theme. Furthermore, the scene when Tonton was attacked by his fears was vividly dark and unsettling. Lastly, blending the live-action and animated elements was as close to perfection as possible.

With outstanding visuals, excellent acting and a heartwarming story, Firefly took the audience to Tonton’s journey of finding his light again. An actual Filipino holiday film, it promoted introspection and jerked tears along the way. It served as a reminder that a person’s inner child can still find solace in acceptance and truth despite the long and exhausting journey. F – Francis Miguell Sta Rosa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Contact Us