Although 33 years have passed since martial law was lifted in the Philippines, the ghost created by that dark era continues to haunt the country’s social landscape.
“Its effects on our society and nation are still felt up to now. The problems of that period are still the same problems besetting my country,” says the Filipino writer and filmmaker Jun Lana. “As a filmmaker, it’s important for me to look back, reflect on these issues and see how far we’ve come as a people.”
Lana’s film Barber’s Tales is included in this year’s Narrative Competition at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Set during martial law under the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, Barber’s Tales tells the story of a free-spirited woman named Marilou who is forced to run the barbershop business of her late husband. The town’s male segment, however, mocks the idea of having a female barber and expresses doubt on Marilou’s capability to perform a job traditionally perceived as only for males.
Lana explains: “The male-dominated milieu of a remote community set in the 1970s is the perfect backdrop to tell the story of an unassuming widow who decides to take up her late husband’s job as their town’s lone barber. When we reverse gender roles and expectations, the best and worst of us are often revealed.”
Marilou is played by the popular comedian Eugene Domingo, who on Friday bagged the Best Actress award at the Tokyo International Film Festival for her role in Barber’s Tales.
The movie carries Lana’s imprint all over it, particularly that fondness for presenting stories shaped by countryside surroundings. Though born in the city, Lana developed an attraction with traditional lifestyle and its nuances, elements that he incorporates often into his scripts.
In fact, Barber’s Tales is the second instalment of a film trilogy focusing on small-town life in the Philippines. First to be shown was the comedy-drama Bwakaw (2012), while the third project, titled Ama Namin, is currently in production.
“Manila is exciting and vibrant, but it grinds you down. I think that, in general, cities all over the world, in varying ways, have lost their identity and become generic, enslaved to capitalism and consumerism,” says Lana. “It’s in the provinces that one can still feel the distinct aspects of our Filipino culture. There’s a purity to life in the rural Philippines that fascinates me as a filmmaker.”
The UAE is the latest stop of Barber’s Tales, following its successful showing at the recently concluded Tokyo International Film Festival. It had also won the Best Project Award plus three other top prizes at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum. “The audiences in Tokyo have been fantastic,” says Lana. “People were in tears after the screening, and many, mostly women, have gone up to me to say how the film deeply moved them.”
Lana hopes that the warm reception enjoyed by Barber’s Tales in Asia will be replicated in the Middle East.
“We are extremely honoured and excited to be at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. It’s my first time there and I’m looking forward to screening it in a city where there is a big Filipino community.”
But more than just presenting the film to foreigners and Filipino expatriates, Lana’s main goal is to impart the movie’s message of promoting equality not just in his home country.
“People are often imprisoned by what society deems as right, wrong and morally acceptable,” he says.
“Maybe we can say that people are a little more open-minded now compared with before, but discrimination and oppression of women continue up to this day everywhere.”
Barber’s Tales screens tonight at 6pm at Marina Mall’s Vox 5 and on Friday at 9pm at Vox 6