Kevin Mayuga’s “Ate O.G.” tells the story of a servant (here, forget the PC use of “kasambahay”, when really, many Filipinos continue to treat householders as modern-day servants, such as the character here, played by Merle Cahilig) who – while looking after her “amo” (Kara and Keenan Mayuga) at the time of COVID-19 – also has to deal with her personal issues (e.g. depression).
There’re a lot of (good) stuff to be said here (that for me made the film work)…
- Looks at an issue of utmost importance not just at the time of COVID-19, but all the time – i.e. privileges of idiotic people, and how they continue to be blinded by their “difficulties” in life compared to those they actually help oppress.
- Mayuga, himself, acknowledges that the film is inspired by “the guilt of privilege”; and this recognition shows in the treatment of the househelper, here seen as not necessarily a caricature but a representation of the people we still see running so many houses nowadays.
- Also looks at mental health – e.g. those self-inflicted, and those we end up inflicting others.
- Has voyeuristic shots that are… actually effective, e.g. the intro, the view from outside the gate while she was gardening, the view from inside the house while she was doing the laundry, etc.
- Crisp shots, i.e. you can tell the the production’s… better off than others, able to use high quality equipment.
- “Informed” shots, e.g. making most characters “anonymous” with intelligent covering of faces (think “Citizen Kane”), those aforementioned voyeuristic shots (think “Requiem for a Dream”), lots of foregrounding (think “Stagecoach”), etc. Kudos, therefore, goes to director of photography (and also the production designer) Kevin Mayuga.
- -Pro-MJ use particularly to deal with health issues (e.g. mental health), which is an issue that Filipinos should really already be talking about at this time and age.
- It runs for 16:57 minutes, among the longest in the Cinemalaya 2021 competition. This isn’t long for me, personally; but for those who want short, SHORT films, this is long enough…
- The seeming desire of Mayuga to, eventually, paint the abusive privileged people as “not that bad”, that they – too – can be redeemed (within the span of the short film). Here, therefore, you don’t see them redeem themselves; just changing “for the better” because, hey, they have that privilege to “be better”. It feels forced; and feels like an excuse for the oppressors’ abusive behaviors. It also feels like… Mayuga’s “I am sorry, but – look – we’re playing nice already” sentiment showing through…
IN THE END
Really, this is one of the better (even best) films to come out of this year’s Cinemalaya. Forget that it could be read as Mayuga’s therapy. But that it only tackles issues we should all be talking about not just during COVID-19 but beyond the pandemic, and does so with… some flair, makes this worth watching. So I’d say watch this; and like Ate O.G. herself, savor what this brings you… no matter how fleeting.
“Ate O.G.” is part of the 17th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, running until September 5 ktx.ph (https://www.ktx.ph/).