It takes a committed artist as Mae Paner to mount a no-nonsense, brave if not fierce production as “Tao Po.”
As a matter of fact, the organic narrative and the creative complexion are in tension, at the same time consistently coherent with the outside world the realities in the plastic art were derived.
It has been said that Mae—the personal side of the artist—had sold her car to produce the theater version of the project. More to it, it had no investment taker in such a courageous venture so she poured in her own money to it instead. It was a gamble but she dared challenge the status quo and found catharsis in such a defiance to present the sordid reality in Philippine society at this time because she, as a person and as an artist, has to say something about the most savage act of summary execution against humanity. It’s the desensitized self and the scarcity of compassion alongside bereft of material things on the senseless killing that pushed her to make this subject in the open to feel and think about the situation.
We are also talking here of the film equivalent of the original stage play (although she has already a producer on the creative doc which was recently screened at the recent 17th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival) which exposes four different characters and their support cast playing around them performed simultaneously by one actor—a photojournalist, a wife, a vigilante and a daughter—who have direct experiences with the terror act of Extra Judicial Killings (EJK) in the country under the Duterte watch.
A photo journalist—a representation of, and as himself, Raffy Lerma—who took the poignant photograph in the scene of the crime where a wife cuddles in her arms a dead husband, a perceived drug user, who was killed by hooded riding in tandem.
A wife who witnessed the killing of her husband and son accused of drug pushing and using, respectively, in cold blood, by a number of armed men inside their house.
A police hatchet man who has become jaded after his murder of suspected drug addicts even in broad daylight.
A little girl who was witness to the merciless killing of her parents, again, by men in uniform, and as a pattern, inside the sanctity of their home.
Mae, identified as well as her moniker Juana Change, has once more shown her versatility in donning diverse characters—as a photo journalism professor who teaches and orients her students the immediacy of snapping shots or seizing the moment of the action, as a zumba coach who recalls the infamous homicide of her beloved kin by authorities, an executioner in uniform who confesses his thirst for blood and the numbness of his murderous hands for the so-called poor scams of the earth and as a little girl who lights up a candle for each EJK victim as she delineates and renounces police brutality on her mom and dad.
No, we didn’t see the larger-than-life image of Mae or Juana Change onscreen but only her quotidian reps of protean acts in a flurry of incessant characterizations in shifting moods and thoughts in stream consciousness. There is always tension every moment Paner or Juana Change changes and thrusts her thespic chops in comedic as well as dramatic turns or musical tendencies as she directs herself.
“Tao Po”—which means “human, after all”—is a multimedia affair not only on its stagey milieu, TV sense as a popular medium to flash on the small screen interviews or pictures on barbaric acts to bits and pieces, print outlets as newspapers and magazines, filmic form and substance but the classrooms, slums neighborhoods, houses, military barracks, cemetery etc. to signify the semiotics of the grim and violent state of the regime.
There is a certain Brechtian effect from the film primarily because of the equal presentation of facts and figures in the narrative of each personage not blinding the audience on subjectivity even if the main and only protagonist professes her own beliefs on the goodness of men and the triumph of justice in the end. The aural and visual designs are reminders that this is only an art one is hearing and looking at. Minimalist is the order of the day to serve the art direction. Editing is crisp yet in a limited theatrical space. Script is wholly yet meticulously structured by Maynard Manansala thereby no detail is wasted.
In the end, too, Mae is an auteur who gives her artistry and selfhood away on mixed media about a powerful piece of emotional undertones and thought-provoking instances on EJK.