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Restricted attempt to be fantastical with ‘Pan De Salawal’

If you’re a fan of the likes of Lasse Hallström’s 2000 film Chocolat or Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish, then Pan De Salawal (The Sweet Taste of Salted Bread and Undies) by Anna Francesca WANTS to attract you. The question is whether this works or not.

This is part of FRINGE MAGAZINE’s coverage of Cinemalaya 2018. Themed “Wings of Vision”, the 14th iteration of the annual indie film fest is said to continue to “discover, encourage and support the cinematic works of upcoming and veteran Filipino filmmakers who boldly articulate and freely interpret the Philippine experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity.” So here’s a closer look at whether the films do exactly that.

If you’re a fan of the likes of Lasse Hallström’s 2000 film Chocolat or Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish, or even of Gabriel García Márquez’s tall tales, then Pan De Salawal (The Sweet Taste of Salted Bread and Undies) by Anna Francesca is for you.

Let me qualify that: This film is NOT necessarily for you, but it sure WANTS to attract you.

The difference is in whether this works or not.

THE STORY

In a small barangay near Manila’s railroad, there lived: a lonely and suicidal (former) baker, Salvador (or Sal), who suffered from a chronic kidney condition; a barber with hand tremors; a Cariñosa dancer paralyzed by stroke, and her asthmatic daughter; an aging beauty queen who may have TB; a meat vendor with tumor in his breast, his differently-abled son and another chubby son.

Their lives were touched by a seven-year old Visayan girl named Aguy, who came with a series of miraculous cures.

Sal grew fond of Aguy and offered his home to the wandering child. In the end, though, Aguy had to inflict pain to cure the one she couldn’t ever cure.

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THE GOOD

  1. The camera work was good – at least until the third and fourth acts, when the effects were in full already – with crisp shots.
  2. The acting was – generally – good (though see #3 below, in the NOT SO GOOD section, too). For instance, Bodjie Pascua’s Sal’s pain (physically from his kidney issue, and existentially as he started questioning his reason for continuing living) could be felt.
  3. The glimpse (really, really short glimpse) of what’s beautiful in life – e.g. bonds we make, glimpses of hope in the future, uncertainties in life, taking leaps for what will make us happy.

THE NOT SO GOOD

  1. Storyline’s too thin for me. Chocolat, at least, attempted to tackle the hypocrisy of organized religion by “othering” those who do not blindly follow them and even if they are worse than these people they’ve “othered”. I’m still thinking of the “grand scheme” in this one, considering that the focus really was just on personal salvation through second chances.
  2. Effects are lousy – e.g. When it rained salt, check the surrounding area and notice that no “salt drops” were happening; and that “leap” from in front of the incoming train reminded me of Vilma Santos’ Darna, with a pic cutout made to “fly” onscreen.
  3. Acting’s not consistent – e.g. he’s the resident heartthrob of the flick, sorry, but the cripple is too obviously not a cripple but is just bending his feet while pretending to walk with difficulty.
  4. Technical issues – e.g. I had continuity concerns, such as the seeming non-cleaning (for days!) of the flour on the table after all the baking just so a character could see what was “drawn” on it.
  5. Use of Bisaya was, at times, caricature-like. Check Cesar Montano’s Panaghoy sa Suba for better Bisaya speaking…
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IN THE END

If you can suspend your disbelief for 100 minutes, check this one out. The shots are generally clean, the flow of the filmmaking okay, and the saccharine story obviously made just to please. What may have started as an existential questioning (of continuing living, particularly when one is so sick and life seems so hopeless already) becomes nothing but (LITERAL) circle dance in the end as everyone finds new leash in life.

Now, if this is not your cup of tea, just avoid.

Running time: 100 mins

CAST: Bodjie Pascua, Miel Espinosa, Madeleine Nicolas, Anna Luna, Felix Roco, Soliman Cruz, Ian Lomongo, Ruby Ruiz, JM Salvado & Lorenzo Aguila

PRODUCTION: Writer & Director Che Espiritu • Executive Producer Cinefocus Productions • Producers Phyllis Grande, Tey Clamor & Neil Arce • Associate Producer Mico Manalaysay • Line Producer Alex Poblete • Cinematography Tey Clamor • Production Design Alvin Francisco • Editor Benjo Ferrer • Sound Design Mikko Quizon • Original Music Len Calvo • PM Dot Labro • AD Tin Velasco

We believe that just because one is popular, doesn\'t mean it merits that popularity. There are many at the fringes also meriting attention, though do not have the means to means/know-how to be so. And so here we are, celebrating everything... artistic life from the fringes.

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