Going at It Again
There has been a number of films about human trafficking, or with subplots dealing with the subject, to hit our shores over the last few years, such as the star studded Crossing Over. But most of these films have dealt with the issue from halfway across the globe between the Mexican/South American and borders of the USA. With Halaw, which in Bahasa Melayu meaning “Driven Away”, this issue couldn't come any more closer to home as it examines the same between the borders of Bongao, the Philippines and Sabah, Malaysia, where the film begins with a harrowing, audio only, threat by the Malaysian customs authorities who threaten to shoot.
Illegal immigrants can be found just about in any country in the world, more often than not fleeing from various conditions from their home country, into another where there's promise of a new world, and new opportunities to start life afresh. That is if you don't get caught, stay below the radar, but more often than not become fodder for exploitation because the threat of deportation by the authorities is always looming over one's head. Halaw, an independent Filipino film, explores exactly this illegal supply chain, with willing traffickers out to fleece fellow countrymen in taking them abroad away from their troubles, that may seem at times to be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Shot more like a docu-drama (I had initial thoughts that this was going to be a documentary exploring the human trafficking subject, but I guess that's for another film to develop), director Sheron Dayoc, whose intricate research with various personalities caught up in this web, crafts an amalgamation of characters, each personifying the typical caricature one would find onboard a boat that's illegally crossing borders under the cover of darkness of night.
There's a young lass (Arnalyn Ismael the child actress being the revelation here) who is trying to reunite with her mom at the other side of the crossing, John Arcilla's pimp character out to convince two potential quitters about the missed opportunities if they were to give up at the very last minute of not boarding the boat – this scene Is all powerful given the audience's knowledge that he's outright lying about their tutor's job, and one involving a frequent crosser (Maria Isabel Lopez) who unwittingly through her flamboyant arrogance and show offing of her various expensive material goods, may have set the stage for many more innocent villagers to want to emulate her “success”, with that confident, outward nature rarely betraying that tinge of fear and doubt hidden deep underneath.
The final act of the film is where everything came together as the strangers come on board a leaky boat for their final journey southwards toward Sabah. Shot on digital and with as natural a misc-en-scene as possible, Dayoc puts us as one onboard the same vessel as we make the journey together, with one pitstop made for an exploit to happen, and for Arnalyn Ismael to further demonstrate her strong potential for future films. The soundtrack is haunting, as are the images of the group's final flight into the darkness of an unknown future and fate that brings it full circle in this powerful, succinct 78 minutes narrative. Just exactly what the film is driving at, is summarized with intertitles full of grim statistics.
It isn't always that issues can be found on one side of the world and not another. We share this same single planet we live in. Problems and issues faced in one part of the world will most likely be found in another, and Dayoc's important film, which has been travelling the film festival circuit, helps to spread an awareness of something that's happening quite close to home. Recommended!
Director Sheron Dayoc and co-writer/ producer Lilit Reyes were present today for a post-screening discussion, as moderated by David Lee of Singapore Film Society. Here's the entire proceedings for those who have missed it!
Part 1 of 3
Part 2 of 3
Part 3 of 3