Is it lifting off or landing?
The short film ‘Plano (2004) opens with the familiar sight and sound of an airplane overhead – untouchable in a cloudless sky towards a clear yet unknown destination. Then we cut to: a paper plane, now touching the dirt and gravel, is dragged aimlessly by a little girl. She is dressed in a Xonrox-white dress with matching shoes, walking along what could be any eskinita anywhere in the Philippines. Unlike those metal birds in the sky, these aren’t planes that soar. They aren’t untouchable. They are stepped on, crumpled, and put in the back pockets of men who have no use for them. We see that, even in her defiance in the end, the young girl is ignored. These paper planes may have destinations, but we will never get to see them. In less than two minutes, ‘Plano shows a death of possibility in the perspective of a young girl living in poverty.
Salingpusa (2006) reintroduces the same girl to us. She is no longer on the street, but is instead playing a game of cards with three adult men. Shaky camera work quickly shows that the power distribution here is unequal. The almost hilarious brilliance is in the details: everyone takes this game seriously, but she isn’t even tall enough to see what’s on the table clearly. A series of closeups give us glimpses into each person’s inner life: the innocence, the stakes with every play, and even the small anxieties. In the absence of money, she risks losing the next best thing: her rag doll, a metaphor for her childhood. When she loses this, the stakes go up and each of the men bet not their money, but their weapons. Without another doll or another dime to risk, she puts a bougainvillea flower on the table. The cards are each laid down on the table, and we see the girl’s eyes – determined, before we cut to black. She wins, but she throws the weapons on a pile of leaves and keeps only her flower. The camera stays in place as she walks away.
In both short films, director Antoinette Jadaone tackles the plight of young girls living in poverty at the hands of a patriarchal world that we live in. In ‘Plano, the young girl encounters small forms of this violence: her refusal is ignored, and her time of exploration and imagination is stopped without reason. Though she defies against him, only the audience is able to acknowledge her defiance; an almost fuck you directly at us who have been left powerless to help her. In Salingpusa, the violence is bigger, bolder and deadlier. As the men are left to mourn over the loss, she walks away. What kind of men let a little girl walk away with weapons of war? Does she understand that she has won tools of violence? Why didn’t she trade the weapons for her doll back? The answer to these questions are all the same: Who knows? But what is important is that, even as she has the power to, she ultimately chooses not to partake in the violence these tool can foster. Instead, she chooses life.
That is what we can only hope from this generation.
Note: These short films were viewed on January 18, 2020, thanks to Richard Bolisay and Cinema Centenario, as part of the CINELAB workshop.