By Michael Kho Lim, Contributor
Filmmaker Kip Oebanda’s Liway tells the story of a mother’s love for her children and her motherland in the time of Martial Law under then President Ferdinand Marcos. It presents the struggles of Day (Glaiza de Castro) in raising her son Dakip (Kenken Nuyad) in a prison camp and how she uses storytelling to shield her son from the dark realities of that time.
Day shares to her son the story of Liway, the enchantress of Kanlaon, which is actually an allusion to herself as Kumander Liway, one of the detained rebel leaders. Although the nymph’s story is not strongly present throughout the film, the cutout animation used is a good technique in narrating parts of this tale.
What makes the film very refreshing is Oebanda’s approach in taking the viewers to Camp Delgado to relive the experience with Dakip sans the trauma. The film veers away from the usual Martial-Law flick that is Manila-centric and features torture and other forms of violence. While we see some killings in certain scenes, Oebanda presents the pain of Martial Law without its horrors and the fear attached to it.
The terror of Martial Law lingers in the film but it doesn’t have a strong, staying power. It is overcome by the hope that Dakip’s mother instills in him through the stories she tells but also cautious of not permitting him to live in a world of fiction and lies. The film sends out the message that good parenting is not entirely dependent on the environment where the kid is nurtured.
One can say that the film’s plot is predictable, but it is not really meant to have plot twists or stir up surprises. The film also appears to be slow-paced, but it is not dragging. It is interspersed with flashbacks and animation at the right moments, while the narrative builds up towards the day when the rebels are set free.
Oebanda’s direction gives time for the characters to develop and allows the viewers to feel the story without rushing them. Nonetheless, Liway is not a tearjerker. In fact, one might only shed some tears after the film ends when one realizes that it’s the filmmaker’s real-life experience.
There are many memorable scenes in the film that highlight De Castro’s and Nuyad’s acting prowess. These include Day’s moment of surrender when she was pregnant, thus the name of her son, Dakip (“captured” in English). There is also the moment when Dakip climbs up a tree to see, for the first time, a beautiful beach. We also see Dakip’s innocence and raw emotion when he first sets foot on the “outside world” to speak before a protesting crowd and when he chooses to return to the prison camp to be with his family even if he was given the chance to be “free” and sleep in a comfortable bed.
Liway is not necessarily a commentary, but a chronicle of one of the many Martial Law stories left untold. The film is the best proof that Oebanda is an excellent storyteller and an effective user of the film medium. The challenge of making films based on true stories is how to keep them real without being melodramatic, which some television dramas tend to do.
The songs included in the film are also very appropriate, adding to the mood of the film. De Castro’s rendition of Asin’s “Himig ng Pag-ibig” towards the final act of the film is deeply moving. The film beats with a mother’s heart and speaks to the audience’s heart.
Liway is currently showing at the Cinemalaya: Philippine Independent Film Festival from 3 to 12 August at various venues of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and selected Ayala cinemas.