It’s always a joy to watch regional Philippine cinema, especially when the film utilizes the local language.
In the case of James Robin Mayo’s “The Chanters,” the setting is Iloilo and all the characters speak Hiligaynon. The melodic Ilonggo intonations adds to the charm of this lovely film about a small village on a mountain where the community watches their favorite TV show on the only house with a working television set and antenna.
The main character, Sarah Mae, lives with her grandfather, the last chanter of their tribe, who is compiling the epics of their heritage from memory before they are completely lost. Sarah Mae’s home has no electricity and they cook their meals on an open fire, but she has a cellphone to talk to her mother who is working abroad and to take selfies with.
“The Chanters” is a story of the collision between the past and the future. Sarah Mae’s grandfather is the keeper of the old ways and their traditions while Sarah Mae is obsessed with a game on her phone and Danica Reyes, the star of the community’s favorite TV show.
There is a wide gap between her and her grandfather but everything comes together when Danica Reyes is scheduled to visit their village and Sarah Mae will get a chance to meet her idol. Coincidentally, Sarah Mae’s grandfather begins to show symptoms of dementia.
“The Chanters” is a wonderful film about heritage, poetry, and the crossing of the generations into each other’s worlds. There is a rawness to the film that gives the film an unpolished feel but adds to the charm and authenticity of the narrative.
First of all, the film’s screen size isn’t wide, giving the feeling that we are watching a cellphone video. The camera movements are steady, if not still, but the composition is excellent. It gives us a feel that there is so much more to the beauty of Sarah Mae’s village but we never quite see it. From this tiny screen, the director tells us that this is a small world. Everyone knows each other here and their concerns are contained. It’s a lovely use of the method.
Secondly, the actors all have this quality of first-time actors. Their portrayals are literal and looked very lived-in, as if they are really from the village, which may be the case. Nevertheless, the younger actors have a way of delivering their lines as if they were acting while the older actors weren’t even acting at all. At the beginning, it is annoying but, as the film continues to unfold, and the authenticity of the story starts to settle in, it becomes just right for the film’s tone.
Finally, the film’s editing needs to be tighter, snappier. It’s short at 76 minutes, but it feels long because it dawdles in moments, extending silences needlessly. The pace could be quicker but what it does is that it transports you into that world. It’s the pacing which probably helps cement the authenticity of the film and makes it work.
Despite the rawness of it, “The Chanters” will put a smile on your face and make you think about our important cultural heritage. This is a well-thought-out film with a languid pace but a powerful ending, showing you that director James Robin Mayo knew what he was doing from the start.
“The Chanters” is one of the feature film entries in the competition section of the ongoing QCinema International Film Festival. Its remaining screening schedule is as follows:
Oct. 23, Monday, 01:30 PM, Galleria
Oct. 24, Tuesday, 01:30 PM, UP Town Centre
Oct. 24, Tuesday, 06:30 PM, Trinoma
Oct. 25, Wednesday, 03:30 PM, Gateway
Oct. 26, Thursday, 09:00 PM, Galleria
Oct. 27, Friday, 04:00 PM, UP Town Centre
Oct. 28, Saturday, 03:30 PM, Gateway