I ought to begin with a confession that when I saw this film I was very tired and struggled to keep awake. Coupled with projection problems this meant that I lost the thread of the narrative. On the positive side, I did notice that the audience generally received the film very well, especially the song sequence. Perhaps there is an Asian cultural connection. Apart from watching a significant chunk of a Philippines film on the airtrip out to India, I haven’t seen a feature from this country before and my assumptions/first impressions were that these films are closest to Cantonese Cinema, but with more of an American feel.
The oddly named ‘Ploning’ is actually the central character played by Judy Ann Santos, something of a superstar in the Philippines and producer of this film which was the official Philippines nomination for the 2008 Foreign Language Oscar. The film is set on the island of Palawan and the smaller group of Cuyo Islands where the main language is Cuyonon (as distinct from the national language of Filipino/Tagalog). The story is based on a Cuyonon folk song about Ploning, a woman of 30 who has refused to marry after her teenage sweetheart disappearedwhen she was just 16. Since then she has devoted herself to helping others in her local community where she is widely loved and respected. The narrative begins with the arrival in the small town of a young man who has been working on a Taiwanese fishing boat. He is searching for a woman named ‘Ploning’. What is his connection to her? The narrative appears to shift between time periods (remember that I kept falling asleep) and includes many elements from the original folksong, including references to when the rains come, the local fiesta and the two local enterprises – extracting salt from seawater and processing cashews into ‘brittle’. The film is clearly a form of romantic melodrama with a series of coincidences and cross relationships which in my sleepy state I couldn’t disentangle. Overall, it seemed an attractive and pleasant story that I clearly wasn’t able to properly appreciate. The film has been seen at various festivals and has been very popular in its domestic market where its authenticity is in its favour. The co-writer and director Dante Nico Garcia is himself from Cuyo.
Films like this rarely get a release in the UK but I’m sure it will have played (or will play in the future) in ‘out of hours’ cinema screenings or community-based DVD screenings in London where there is a significant Philippino population. In terms of its relationship to other films in the Kolkata Festival it picks up on the themes of exile and also of the different language communities within most national states in contemporary culture. There is a useful official website for the film at http://www.ploningthemovie.com