A STIRRING FILM ON THE STRANGE LABYRINTH OF THE MIND
by Pablo A. Tariman
Percival Intalan’s “Dementia” could very well pass for a travelogue which leads us to an idyllic island that is Batanes.
The island landscape gives the film a unique aura and a beautiful setting worthy of “Wuthering Heights.”
The filmmaker gives us a good contrast between island and city life as a cellphone-lugging city dweller (Jasmine Curtis Smith) is portrayed perennially looking for a signal and talking non-stop to a city-based friend.
To be sure, nothing in the film is predictable but as it unravels the beauty of Batanes, a sinister tone sets in as a family settles in the ancestral house of Mara Fabre (Nora Aunor) who used to take care of family siblings until her mental illness got the better side of her.
Science describes dementia as a mental illness the symptoms of which affect thinking and is often associated with a decline in memory and inability to cope with daily life.
Such is the situation of Mara (Aunor) when the family members played by Bing Loyzaga, Yul Servo and Jasmine Curtis decided to go back to her (Mara’s) hometown. Loyzaga is hopeful going back to the island can help bring back Mara’s memory.
Indeed it does and as the scenes from a past life gradually return, she is at once happy but sad and by turns traumatized by the turn of events in the family which adopted her. She is perennially preoccupied with jigsaw puzzle, she forgets the name of the members of the family and she sees visions of people from the past. In the film’s chilling flashback, she becomes a repository of an appalling family secret and in the end, the dream of living a peaceful island life with a loved one is dashed to pieces.
The story of Jun Robles Lana and Renei Dimla gives the film total focus and Intalan used it to weave an unusual story with haunting island backdrop.
Good ensemble acting characterized the performances of Loyzaga, Servo, Curtis, Jeric Gonzales, Althea Vega with marked appearances of Lou Veloso and Lui Manansala.
Curtis displays a commendable acting contrast when the spirit of a dead kin overpowers her and at once, she ceased to be the sophisticated city dweller always hugging her high tech gadget.
There is no denying that the cemetery scene of La Aunor was as gripping and mind-blowing as she comes to terms with people from her past.
Batanes in this film is an island of memory — as the film’s lead character makes us believe — and the song from “Cats” (Memory) easily comes to mind. It is a coincidence that the musical is based on T.S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.”
The lead character’s array of reminiscences are pretty much mirrored in some lines of the song
The time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again
* * *
Sunlight through the trees in summer
Like a flower as the dawn is breaking
The memory is fading
Indeed, this is La Aunor at one of her best moments on screen. For a few seconds, her face registers both the good and happy past and the sad, if, twisted, turns of events in her life.
If only for this moment, the actress deserves another round of acting honors.
But that brilliant moment is not solely her own as it was the result of a collaborative effort between the writers and the director.
Even more astounding is the film scoring of Von de Guzman who used the versatility of the Ateneo Chamber Choir to highlight the suspenseful moments of the film.
In addition, the cinematography of Mackie Galvez and the sound design of Addiss Tabiong gave the film a superb visual and aural flow that was always in sync with the story.
As it is, director Intalan gave us a preview of the strange, if, casual look into the unknown labyrinth of the mind. He is not one director who can be very clinical about it. But rather, he gives us a slice of domestic drama in a home with an afflicted member of the family.
As it turned out, the wide endless sea of Batanes served as a beautiful symbol of the unknown, if, mysterious, landscape of the mind. Around it, the director wove a simple but revealing story on the horrors and torture of dementia.
One must say this is one of the finest horror films seen in local cinema.
Certainly, it deserves the Grade A rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board.
”Dementia” is now showing in all theaters.