Filipino Tokyo Film Festival Entry Mañanita Takes Inspiration from Cops Serenading Suspects

It starts screening in local cinemas today.

(SPOT.ph) What do eight-hour film Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis, boxing flick Kid Kulafu, and surfing romance Siargao have in common? Aside from raking in awards, they're also produced by TEN17P, a Filipino film company owned by Paul Soriano and Mark Victor. The production house's latest title, Mañanita, premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival earlier this year, and it's made its Philippine premiere on December 4.

In this Lav Diaz-penned film, Bela Padilla plays a retired military shooter turned alcoholic who breaks from her habits in search of purpose. A majority of the trailer is vague, much like what she wants to achieve, and her only guidance is an old man (Ronnie Lazaro) who encourages her to persist in her journey.

A quick Google of the title brings up "Las Mañanitas," a traditional birthday song from Mexico which is also sung in other Latin American countries. Usually, it is sung in the morning to wake up the celebrant, or before the cake is eaten. In some countries, like Colombia, it is a serenade reserved only for girls on their 15th birthday.

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The song takes on multiple meanings and functions, and in an interview, Mañanita director Soriano said he was inspired to make this film after watching a Davao Del Norte feature of the same name. The feature was about "cops who would serenade drug users and drug dealers early in the morning, which would force them into surrendering. Instead of using violence and force, they would make arrests through their use of guitars and by singing songs that had a message of forgiveness and hope."

This peaceful method of serenade and surrender intrigued Soriano, and he flew to Davao Del Norte to do research. It took a lot of back and forth, and Mañanita took him three years to make.

Padilla plays a hardened female military sniper that has lost direction in life, and while she stands in the middle of something much bigger than she is—the war on drugs, military brutality, injustice, and politics—it also explores how the rest of society perceives her, and she's pretty hard to miss with a huge scar on her face. Several questions of morality and ethics loom for a woman in that job, but the trailer contains several cuts of rolling hills and empty outdoor spaces, almost as if its serenity could balance out the chaos in her life.

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Mañanita takes on a more transcendental style of filmmaking, which Soriano says is "the art of watching life." It's more subdued, relishes in the mundane, and soaks in reality as is without all the frills. The film is more of a character study, and zooms in on a character's purpose. Films of this sort are nothing new, with the likes of 1976 neo-noir film Taxi Driver, and for local, eight-hour film Diaz's Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis comes to mind. But what makes Mañanita bold today is the decision to discuss the pressing issue of crime and the role of the military during a time when drug addiction and drug peddling are very serious matters. Serious enough to mean lives lost, streets growing more dangerous every night, and the law's scales tipped in favor of those in power.

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Tokyo saw Mañanita first, but now it's back in the Philippines for Filipino viewers to see. The film's title is a contradiction in our times: cops serenading suspected criminals into surrender. It almost seems like a fantasy. With national issues so big, it seems disrespectful to think about the self and purpose, but the film's aim is to discuss exactly that. Mañanita might follow the conventions of other films before it, but given its style and purpose in this political climate, and the contradiction its title holds, it will be interesting to see how folks take it in.

Mañanita is now showing at cinemas in Metro Manila.

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