Note: Before reading this film review, it’s best to watch Ugbos Ka Bayabas first. Watch the film at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/bayabas
Ritual precedes reason. We take both the good and the bad from our culture that presents itself to be set in stone. If one custom or two are shown, whether explicitly or implicitly, in a time capsule such as cinema, they inevitably become cemented, for better or for worse, to the collective consciousness that succeeds mass media. For one, taboo topics may find its freedom or conversely become more obscured. However, it is tricky, risky, and worthy of attention if one attempts to find reason on these practices and rituals.
Ugbos Ka Bayabas (or Tender Leaves of Guava) tells an experience of a boy to a rite of passage. The premise of ‘boys need to be circumcised to be men’ is nothing short of the Filipino “values” we unquestionably embrace. The problem does not lie in the practice per se but in the framing of the supposed transition in identity after said practice is committed. Pressure by comparison is ever effective persuasion technique. It makes the inevitable happen just earlier than one is prepared for, but there is another reason to be convinced – to prove oneself. Yet the plot safely sticks to tradition with its heteroromantic determination of the characters.
The film banks on familiarity which would make it universal for Filipinos regardless of religious or scientific beliefs. But with its simplicity and predictability, the story only serves as plain cultural exhibition. The music reinforces its uncritical treatment which may be negligible for the purpose of formal conformity in genre and preservation of tradition in essence. The cut doesn’t break humor when it should and breaks when it shouldn’t. Its imagery is over the top at times but could still be tolerable for entertainment.
Ugbos Ka Bayabas enjoys itself with innocence and recognizable tradition while presenting a superficial story of stereotypes. It identifies the importance of rituals but misses the reasons to examine or just even explore beyond a shallow and secure understanding of a rather uncommon topic, circumcision, in media. But to begin with, the film could use some sharper blade to reach the soft skin of swinging sentiments.
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