Film Review: Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos

In review

To Calm the Pig Inside (Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos), directed by Joanna Vasquez Arong, is a short film about super-typhoon Yolanda – known internationally as Haiyan. Central to the film is Tacloban and its environs, which were leveled by the storm surges that unleashed seven meter waves. Black and white pictures and videos are juxtaposed with a narrator’s monologue in Bisaya: a patchwork of stories, including hers, that tries to make sense of the tragedy and trauma through local myth, superstition and anecdotes from the townspeople who survived the storm. Referenced in the title is a Bisayan myth of a pig that lives “inside the earth” that the narrator, volunteering to deliver aid in her home province, heard from the typhoon’s survivors. When angry, the pig trembles, and townspeople believe that shouting its name “Buwa” during an earthquake calms the pig inside.

The film is melancholic, meditative and poetic, and it achieves this with the script and the powerful images. However there are two strands in the film that are equally potent but are left unexplored. Halfway through the film scanned drawings seemingly drawn by children were shown – in full color – while recounting a child’s story who lost a mother and five siblings. It calls to mind ‘I Like Life A Lot’, a 1977 Hungarian film by Kati Macskassy which similarly employed children’s drawings. The latter, a documentary about primary school children recalling their family hardships as Romani (Gypsies) in Hungary through their varied drawings – achieved veracity due to its format and premise; in the former, the details behind those drawings were left out, and we’re left to imagine the children’s origins, emotions and sentiments – all potent sources of narratives that could further enrich the film’s premise. Instead the film chose to dwell within the narrator’s stream of consciousness, using this lens to distill and mesh oral narratives that are woven around Yolanda.

Towards the start of the film it also exposed what could be considered as the government’s worst blunder: information dissemination. “Some teachers told me they didn’t know what a storm surge was. What about those who didn’t speak English?” Curiously, “storm surge” – and not “tidal wave” or “tsunami” – is the word choice by weather forecasters and news outlets in their warnings ahead of Yolanda; however its absence in the Bisaya or Tagalog lexicon proved devastating. It’s wrong to look for justice and resolution from a film that considers itself – its very inception – as a way to find the closure long sought by Yolanda survivors. Now that typhoon Yolanda occupies a major part in the narrative of global climate justice, the film’s inclusion in last year’s Climate Crisis Film Festival (CCFF), the world’s first climate action film festival, is a good sign that it is slowly working towards this resolution.

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