Sigwa is a film made to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1st quarter storm, a particularly tumultuous period of 3 months in our nation's history just before herr Marcos declared martial law. Unlike most communist anniversaries, this is an event that commemorates a bloody revolutionary event where they lost. This film is no communist victory however. This film is a story about the relationship of a group of friends as they happen from two initial snapshots, one taken in 1970 and another in 2009 and what happens after those snapshots are taken.
While the historical recollection of the 1st Quarter Storm is "mga taga UP yan", to either correct or artificially diversify that assumption, the only school mentioned by one of the students as their school of origin is what would eventually become PUP. Sigwa not only diverts origins from UP, it waters down it's labels as it refers to communism as the revolution or activism - which dangerously relates any activism and revolution to communism. The students are now known as activists only. NPA rebels are never called NPA rebels and are never even called rebels. They are armed fighters and are openly thanked by the poor for getting that landlord off their backs so they can remain poor in peace.
This isn't a film that tries to glamorize being a communist or an NPA as it never shows that the communists or rebels have ever alleviated poverty or that they even can. Sigwa shows that it only causes misery for it's practitioners and participants in one way or another. Neither does it paint the military as evil and they aren't even called the military when in civilian clothes, they are simply the government and are largely faceless here. The one face of evil that is revealed is Marcos and to balance that, it also shows images of Ninoy Aquino as a nod to historical murmurs that he was the head of the communist party of The Philippines. Heavy handed imagery would be too great a burden for an audience that disagrees with it so the filmmakers wisely kept most of it out. It remains the story of old friends.
The cast is made up of two groups of actors. One representing the present tho' displaced by a year in order to put it in the regime of Gloria "Ferdinand" Arroyo and her husband Mike "Imelda" Arroyo. Dawn Zulueta plays the Fil-Am named Dolly who was born and raised in the Western Empire of The United States. If in the past she was finding herself, today she is looking for a part of herself she left behind. Dolly is our initial eyes and ears to the group of friends and to the eras they are in but Dawn plays her a bit more as a socialite displaced than a foreigner. The counterpart of Dolly is Cita. If Dolly was the intellectual, Cita is the fighter but not a fighter born.
Cita was an intellectual as well and previously opposed action but events conspire to change her mind. Zsa Zsa Padilla plays the elder Cita as the warrioress with little to no sign of the younger version as her transformation is now complete and even if both Dawn and she play very different characters, they aren't played as opposites because there is a third woman who dilutes the polarization. She is Azon who is played by Gina Alajar. The one who would be a fighter but became something else. Gina Alajar had the task of being an actor playing a person who was also acting all her multiple facets to different people without behaving as if she was lying. The trio of older women are played by mainstream actors here and I was waiting for one of them to stumble but no such thing happened. They did really well, particularly Zsa-Zsa Padilla.
The older male warhorses are represented by two men, one of which is a long-missed name in the mainstream. Tirso Cruz III (sans Nora, sadly) plays Oliver, the ex-boyfriend of Cita and was in fact the man who wished for action as opposed to Cita's initial opposition to it. Tirso Cruz II plays an accurate caricature of several different people put together. What he says the first time he speaks tells you all you need to know about who he has become. There is a bit of deadpan and stiffness to the portrayal but it actualy serves the character well so it may've been intended. It makes the character all the more deceitful. Rounding out the cast of the oldies is the second of the two older males in Jim Pebanco as Rading, the first of the old friends that Dolly meets upon her return. He has that thespian air about him and of a character actor as we like to call them. He isn't a famous mainstream actor at all so his portrayal seems the most believable because there is no actor who has to disappear. You might even think he was an actual activist who wound up an actor.
The grizzled old veterans are played first as old friends meeting each other again after a zillion years but soon enough all the old wounds are reopened, one scab at a time. Things don't change, they just get more serious. The massive ensemble cast were all placed in a story-driven film so there is little room for spectacular performance, tho' a couple manage to do so. They were all believable enough. The older cast however lose out to the youngsters since as older characters, they have lost the exuberance of their youth. With the exception of Zsa-Zsa Padilla's grimly determined elder Cita which is the standout among the elder cast, the actors have to play slower, less vibrant characters. The young'uns in the 1970's are much more lively as this is where the action really happens. It's where all these old wounds were freshly cut.
Brats from The Past
Once again our first eyes and ears into this older world is Dolly, this time played by Megan Young. Her younger Dolly is also portrayed more as a socialite who got lost rather than a foreigner. She has a love interest here named Eddie played by Allen Dizon who shows none of his origins as a star of gay porn - oops, i mean gay art films. The two of them play their love story with very little affection. The impression is of unrequited interest yet somehow they wind up together. Much like Mao's New Democracy, this then is New Love - one without any. The significance to the story of Eddie however is more than just the lover of Dolly. He is pivotal to a great many things and Allen Dizon doesn't play him over the top even if there is so much temptation to do so. In every other area of the character, he is fine. It's jsut that one thing as Dolly's lover that he falls a bit short. Props to Mon Confiado as well because he brings out a very nice badly hidden reaction from Eddie.
The coupling that is far more believable is the one between the young Cita as played by Pauleen Luna and the young Oliver as played by Marvin Agustin. This one was perhaps more believable because these two were in fact a couple in real life and it only took a bit of recall for the roles. They are a couple in love but not outright loving. Their spats are even given political taint as they compare it to the old Rizal vs Bonifacio argument - that of brains vs brawn. Then right after arguing, they exchange gifts and snog. Awesome. These two characters undergo the greatest change and these two actors show you just how they changed. It doesn't come as an evolution of their points of view. It comes harshly and brutally and the two actors sell it well. Marvin Agustin in particular is a major standout in the younger cast if not the entire cast itself. His Oliver is the loudest voice and the most advocative of direct action and militancy at the beginning.
The younger Azon is played by Lovi Poe and she seems to have a problem making her voice and her character heard. I honestly cannot remember what her role was about other than to say there was a younger version of the much older Azon we meet later on and this is what happened to her. The same can be said of the role of young Rading played by Jay Aquitania. In the parlance of the socialist, young Azon and young Rading only have utility value but no predetermined exchange value. The laborers who produce young Azon and Rading are therefore left uncompensated by the audience proletariat.
The Politburo and the Premier
Joel Lamangan directs a story here. He resorts to neither gimmickry nor novelty and our focus is always upon the characters of that story. He is therefore transparent and we never look at any signatures or trademarks that would draw attention to himself because that would take it away from those characters. The ending however goes on a bit and loses some cohesion. It doesn't detract from the whole and if you stood up the first time the screen went blank, you would miss very little. There are also many major events in between 1970 and 2009 that he never mentions or acknowledges and it looks like it was a good decision. The addition of those events would've made it a more politically charged film and remove the very human faces of the friends who participated in the events of 1970.
The film's story as written by Bonifacio Ilagan is never evangelical and avoids becoming preachy in almost all parts except one where Sigwa has to admit the flaws of the ideology. The truths of today's communism are undeniable but since it would reveal the ideology as ineffective in practice, it has to be said by the slimiest character in the entire film. The counter to it comes when it claims that whatever revolution happens in The Philippines will be because of what happens in The Philippines and not because of communism's failings elsewhere. This make about as much sense as claiming that the results of a person jumping off a tall building elsewhere will be different if done here because if someone convices us to jump off a tall building here, we'll do it differently like perhaps do a flip. It was a huge huge reach by the scriptwriter and it failed - tho i suspect the faithful at it's screening would agree with it anyway. That description of them as the 'faithful' resembles a religion intentionally.
In that one conversation we see what the survivors of the First Quarter Storm and in fact the other communists have become. The revolution to them has stopped being an ideology and instead become their religion and they act upon it more with faith and one in fact has become a violent zealot. They spout communist dogma with the same fervor as a Christian would quote the bible. In that scene where slimy makes the claim that progress abounds and that communism is failing elsewhere, it is not the claim of progress everywhere that is taken to task when most of them live where progress is a joke, it is the affront to their New Faith that they simply must address. This is where the story of friendship takes on greater importance than any isms from marx, mao, lenin or whoever else. In the end, the friends of this one cause no matter what it was found each other and stuck with each other regardless of their differences - most of them anyways - and this is their story. If it wasn't this cause that brought them together, it would've been something else and it wouldn't matter whether we agreed with it or not. it was simply their story.
Two lesser flaws are the makeup and the accents. Gina Alajar's makeup in her closeup was meant to make her look sickly but the higher resolution of HD revealed that it just looked like caked makeup. The other complaint is the accents. Both Megan Young and Dawn Zulueta make the attempt to sound American but don't quite get there. Dawn sounded more like she was a Spanish landowner and Megan was occasionally good but occasionally grating - referring to an autopsy as an eh-topsy among others. A simple reset of the suspension of disbelief button fixes this however and even if they are the most prominent actors here, the flaws aren't ruinous. More important however is the lack of diversity in the Filipino accents. One step out of the capital and the Filipino accent changes but all the NPA sound like they all came from Manila. No other province is represented. Lastly, and this isn't a flaw - none of them look like the 60-ish age they should be but nobody cared.
The High Revolutionary
Regardless of it's dictionary definition, propaganda in practice is a work that promotes the ideals of one point of view that you disagree with. If it promotes one that you agree with, then you call it a truthful and honest work instead. I disagree with communism but I don't see this film as propaganda at all. I dunno about truthful, but it was an honest film. A very important dedication is made by Joel Lamangan before the premiere of this film at the CCP. He dedicated the film to the survivors of the first quarter storm, not to something else. The movie is about the people involved and that's what this film was always about and it's the very human faces of the people involved that you see.
Perhaps a complaint could be made that there is no adequate representation of those who don't believe in communism as the only use for characters like that in Sigwa is to be killed. It's because the movie isn't about them at all and it's the same as why there aren't accurate depictions of Muslims in a Christian film other than to be converted. It would only be a complaint if Sigwa delved deeper into the political instead of the narrative and the film steers clear of that and stays on the road it's story tells.
I don't know what Joel Lamangan's motivations were for not going outright left here - personal safety, wider acceptance or whatever else - but I like that he did. The entirety of it's political overtones served merely as a backdrop. As a film about old friends and what's happened to them in the years since they were separated, it succeeds above and beyond the call of duty.