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Life lessons via the fantastical from ‘Kawatan sa Salog (A Toy In The River)’

Yeah, yeah… we’ve been here before – e.g Liway, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc. Wherein the fantastical is used not just to tell a story (from a child’s still-in-awe perspective), but also to give life lessons while doing the same. And this is, basically, what Alphie Velasco’s “Kawatan sa Salog (A Toy In The River)” does.

Yeah, yeah… we’ve been here before – e.g Liway, Pan’s Labyrinth, etc. Wherein the fantastical is used not just to tell a story (from a child’s still-in-awe perspective), but also to give life lessons while doing the same.

And this is, basically, what Alphie Velasco’s “Kawatan sa Salog (A Toy In The River)” does, by telling two tales that merge into one.

On one hand, it tells the story of thieving boy, Santi (Kyle Kaizer Almenanza), who has issues with his father (a fisherman, Marc Felix). He acts out, much to the father’s dismay (and annoyance).

On the other hand, it tells of a fantastical “world” where fucked up people go for resolution – e.g. a “purgatory” of sorts. You can go back to the real world (i.e. in Santi’s case, where his father is) if he “deals with” his issues in this fantastical world.

Does this film work? Did I like it? Let me see…

PROS

  • Good shots aplenty – e.g. long shot of the bangka at the start of the film; that POV from inside the sari-sari store; the boy sitting on the bridge; view from outside the old woman’s house while he served the boy with drinks; etc. Credit goes to cinematographer Dayne Garcia, therefore.
  • Not using Filipino (or English) as it’s always refreshing seeing speakers of other languages represented in films.
  • Tackling social issues – e.g. commercialized fishing and its effects on small-scale fisher communities; environmentalism; etc.
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CONS

  • The delivery of the lines sounded too scripted – e.g. check the very start of the film, when the fishermen talked about working for a private company, the older woman (Liu Manansala) giving the child life lessons, etc. You can sense they’re “reading off” a script, instead of “owning” the words they’re saying.
  • Production issues – e.g. when the clothes of fishermen WHILE WORKING look newly-washed, you know there’s something amiss here; and the Chinese garter under the plastic leaves that served as accessories of the ladies in the “purgatory”; etc.
  • Technical issue when shooting in the dark – e.g. the details in that scene when the father was throwing the toy dinosaur were hardly visible; same as the house when they were eating with only a candle as their source of lighting. And then there’s the too-similar color-grading, so that the real world and the fantastical world couldn’t really be distinguished.
  • Continuity issues – e.g. the father was eating dinner and… then he saved his son who’s about to drown saving his toy.
  • Forced “comedy” – e.g. that panty scene at the beach.
  • Forced “resolution” – e.g. dealing with kleptomania in a matter of days, even referring to it as “pagkakasala” instead of a mental illness.

IN THE END

This is a… peaceful film. Yes, it is not perfect (don’t get me started with that plastic glass with shells used by the older woman); but it’s still a charming one (and albeit rushed) that wants to give quick lessons in life.

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“Kawatan sa Salog (A Toy In The River)” is part of the 17th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, running until September 5 ktx.ph (https://www.ktx.ph/).

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