BY EUDEN VALDEZ
THESPIAN Bodjie Pascua returned to the big screen in this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. Starring in the full-length entry “Pan de Salawal” (The Sweet Taste of Salted Bread and Undies), Pascua portrayed Sal, an ageing baker who has lost the will to live after being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
While his character was a far cry from the jolly, lively Kuya Bodjie we used to know in a kiddie TV show, Pascua managed to warm the hearts of Cinemalaya audiences with the help of 7-year-old child actor Miel Espinosa.
The tandem of Sal (Pascua) and Aguy (Espinosa) showed how one’s “dying” outlook in life could change with a just a “little” nudge.
“Sana nakangiti kayo pagkatapos ng pelikula (Hope you are all smiling after the film)” said writer and director Che Espiritu at the gala screening last August 6 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
True to her words, here’s how “Pan de Salawal” could make you leave the cinema smiling after watching:
1. It’s ‘New Breed’
“Pan de Salawal” is the first film of Espiritu, who was inspired by a very personal story—her father who also suffered chronic kidney disease years back.
For Cinemalaya aficionados such as this author, this was reminiscence to the previous editions of the film festival that featured first-time filmmakers in the New Breed category.
This only showed that Cinemalaya—now on its 14th year—remains to be the launching pad of filmmakers such as Espiritu, who have amazing and inspiring stories worth telling in the big screen.
2. It’s about for miracles
In the film, Sal was on the verge of ending his life when Aguy unexpectedly showed up at their railroad neighborhood in Manila. With no family of his own, Sal found companionship with the little Visayan girl—whose name means “ouch” in the dialect.
Soon, he started baking pan de sal again, just so to feed Aguy. He too began discovering that Aguy could heal illnesses. “Nakakapagpagaling ka?” he asked. “Nanakit,” she answered. For it is by inflicting pain that Aguy made her miracles.
But in his state, could Sal still be healed by Aguy? How much miracle and pain would it take for him to want to live again?
“Ang pelikulang ito ay tungkol sa himala, at himala rin an nabuo ang pelikulang ito,” Espiritu said.
Miracles could just really be what we need these days and for this, Espiritu won the Best Director in the full-length category of Cinemalaya 2018.
3. It’s a film of firsts
For her first film, Espiritu also received the support of Los Angeles-based production outfit CineFocus.
At the gala, founder and producer Herb Kimble expressed his delight for having “Pan de Salawal” as CineFocus’ first foreign language film. “We are glad to have it here in the Philippines,” he said.
It will be the first of many. “I have committed to every year making two films in the Philippines as a way of saying thank you my fellow Filipino friends—you have not only saved my life. You have changed my life,” Kimble said. (LA’s CineFocus backs indie film to ‘return favor’ to PH, ABS-CBN News)
4. It’s got a diverse characters
At Sal’s hood, it’s not just him who’s suffering. His neighbors whose lives had been affected or were being affected by various illnesses add depth to the film. Their characters, on one hand, showcase diversity.
Actress Madeleine Nicolas played a middle-aged woman who was a beauty queen in her golden years. She now felt the effects of her smoking while trying to keep her “kontesera” ways. Stage actor Ian Lomongo, meanwhile, was a good, old barber, whose hands are experiencing uncontrollable tremors, challenging him to keep his barbershop running.
At a meat shop in the corner of a street, a family of father and two sons live. Veteran actor Soliman Cruz is the father and head butcher who discovered he had lumps in his left breast. This comes after his family lost its mother from cancer. His sons, played by Felix Rocco and JM Salvado help in the meat shop, but with a major distraction from the adjacent sari-sari store.
There, a family of mother and daughter live. Regular indie starrer Anna Luna takes care of her paralyzed mother portrayed by Ruby Ruiz. All the while, she harbors admiration to Rocco’s character who is seemingly into her as well. Their young and innocent love added the kilig factor in the film.
Completing the cast is Lorenzo Aguila who is a newspaper boy with a speech disorder. He is Aguy’s favorite friend.
5. It’s magical
Once in awhile in local cinema, we get treated to a magical theme that it is beautifully entwined with society, and more importantly without the melodrama. “Pan de Salawal” is one of the few to do so.
It may never rain snow in the Philippines, but in Paco, Manila where Sal’s bakery is, it rains salt. Ready your hearts to be touched.
“Pan de Salawal” also won Special Jury Award, Best Original Musical Score (Len Calvo), and Special Jury Award for Acting (Miel Espinosa and JM Salvado).