mga anino sa tanghaling tapat

The Bloody Chamber
by Don Jaucian

Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat (Shadows of Noon, 2011)
D: Ivory Universe Baldoza
S: Martha Nikko Comia, Althea Vega, Ness Roque, Flor Salanga

Feminine wiles take center stage in Ivy Baldoza’s Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat. The film is a sensual shadow play in the darkest recesses of the female psyche, tapping various degrees of desire, longing, and despair. It crawls into the subspace of sexual awakening and the gradual slipping of innocence by the use of some of the most controversial images in Philippine cinema, and their effects are of varying credibility. Their placements can be a little bit questionable, but as the film ends its gruesome pilgrimage, the images skitter and settle, lost in the haze of summer’s end. 

Its three central characters, Ines, Ezra, and Odessa (brilliantly played by Martha Comia, Althea Vega, and Ness Roque, respectively), reflect the burrowing core of the film. Here are three characters, all set to explore the complications of the world, with one barely into adolescence. When Odessa has her first period, her mother Esther (Flor Salanga) coaxes her to smear her face with her own menstruation, insisting that it is a tradition handed down from generations to clear a budding woman’s skin. The idea of course repulses Odessa, but it isn’t really more than an act of using her own blood as facial wash. Her actions are part of a rebellion against her mother’s straitjacketing. She sets out to find a boyfriend, she stuffs her bra to get a boy’s attention, and she hangs around with Ines, asking her about the rituals of womanhood. 

But it is Ezra that we are drawn most to. Althea Vega’s face seethes with the tenacity of the most evil women to grace celluloid, but she masks this with a visage so delicate and endearing. Her looks cut and bruise, but her womanly instincts are even more dangerous. She takes after her mother, all matronly, strict, and chained to a life revolving around household chores. As she observes Ines and Odessa, she also embarks in her own explorations, venturing off into the woods, taking away her own virginity with a fruit, and cavorting with a woodsman who passes the time by fucking holes in banana trees. Her pain is inarticulate, but her desire to break free from the restrictions of her mother’s reach takes form in these mutinies, taking full shape like her breasts on her tight dresses.

Amid all of this, Esther’s presence lingers. Her bland, old-world impositions are apparent in each of the girls’s actions, as well as the menacing stares of the household and all of its contents, an abode that Esther has claimed for their own. Her maternal instincts aren’t that blinded by her own beliefs; it is her insistence to keep to the ways that generations of her family has learned to follow to survive. But when Ines’s mother mysteriously disappears into the forest, only to be found naked, bearing marks of sexual transgressions, their family is shamed into retracting to a more shrouded existence.

Much like the house, the forest in Mga Anino acts as a cave teeming with desires and the fantastic. Ines searches the woods for answers about her mother’s past, only to find their most shocking manifestations. The forest hems her in, drawing Odessa and Ezra as well until all three of them are shocked into the repercussions of their own misconducts. Found objects sustain their exploits, and a rock acts as a womb where they listen for whispers, signals to point them to a direction where there is less misery and decay.

Shadows stir in corners as the footfalls crunch the indecencies that the floorboards hide. But Mga Anino is never about resolve. The closure feels more like a patch in a gap, and the sequences feel headier as it goes along. But its beguiling leads carry it on. The characters eventually break off into their own tangents, but there is a strangeness that gathers around them, an atmosphere bloodied by their own pyschosexual meanderings. 

Pelikula Q&A: Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat
An interview with director Ivy Baldoza by Jansen Musico

Your film sounds like a coming-of-age story.

Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story of three young girls. Two of them are sisters. The other one, Ines, is their cousin who comes over to visit. The film plays around the themes of memory, love, loss, and desire in a setting very familiar to us: the barrio. Personally, I just wanted to breathe.

Why is the title Mga Anino sa Tanghaling Tapat?

It’s the shadows the girls make when they escape for their afternoon frolics.

The movie is powered by a group of heroines. Was that incidental or do you have something to say or have traits you want to highlight about rural Filipino women?

I wouldn’t go as far as calling them heroines. They are most likely not going to stand up for anything or champion a cause or represent something very positive. In fact, the characters are very ordinary and to a fault passive to their circumstances.

What made you cast your three actresses?

All of them exude a certain intensity which I think represents the characters of the girls quite well.

What similarities do you see yourself having with the girls in the film?

I grew up in the province. Life there can be cyclical and fatalistic. You can be subjected to rituals and beliefs that are beyond your control, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You may choose to embrace the cycle because it’s comforting, it’s home. Doon ka lumaki, naroon lahat ng kamag-anak mo, kadugo mo, yun ang kinamulatan mo—tama man o mali. Or you may choose to run away from it because you’re drawn to exploring what’s outside.

What was the most difficult part in making the film?

First, the script had undergone a lot of changes and versions. It’s a process. You grow with it and ride with the changes along the way. But I think the real challenge came after, getting a producer to pick it up into production.

The weather was also unforgiving, and then a sad thing happened, one of our actors died before he even got to see the film. Although he appeared briefly just to play dead, he died two weeks later. We really felt the loss of Mang Karding on our last day of filming.

The film has been called a “mystical journey.” Do you think it is?

I hope so. We have that goal in mind to evoke that mood. It’s easier to say, “Yeah. It’s mystical,” but executing that idea from paper to screen is a tricky process. We can end up with something that isn’t mystical, but the process of creating it is magical nonetheless.