HAPPINESS is either a choice to make or a consequence to a brief moment that fulfills a desire. This thought comes to mind after watching the five-and-a-half minute film by Kagay-anon filmmaker Angelo Dabbay; the digital film being his latest work and one of the official entries during the recently concluded Cinemagis Northern Mindanao Digital Short Film Festival in January this year.
Entitled, “Perya” (Filipino term for carnival or amusement park), the short film presents a one-time event shot in one evening at a place hinted by its title. In it, the unnamed main character (played by Dulaang Atenista actor and director JC Salon) spends time with the rides and activities. With what seemed like a sullen look on the character’s face, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to recognize his discontent in his solitude.
Alone, the character attempts to ride the revolving octopus, the rapid roller coaster, and the glamorous carousel, and still remains impassive. One of the scenes even shows him observing a coin-toss gamble at one of the booths within the carnival, and not even a glimpse of smile is manifested.
The film, which contains no dialogues (save for the inaudible murmurs of the crowd surrounding the area), speaks volumes by the vibrant visuals alone. With natural lighting that takes its source from the glaring lights of the rides and the booths, the film strategically engages the viewer to see what the story is about. The character’s posture and expression give meaning and put emphasis to the narrative, although less is explained about where he comes from, what he does for a living, and what his name is. Regardless, it may have achieved one of film’s fundamental objectives as an art form - to be seen.
This film, which may pay homage to the pioneering silent films that dawned Hollywood, takes advantage over imagery, visuals and body language instead of dialogues to present the narrative. One might ask if there has ever been a film from Cagayan de Oro City that integrated the style of silent films but with colors. Perhaps, Dabbay may be the first to do so.
But the director, who is known for his humor with his prior short film, “Kabuang ug Kasakit” which also garnered nominations during last year’s Cinemagis, offers a new take by experimenting on a different style in this filmmaking achievement. Sometimes, what you see speaks louder than what the character says.
Near its end, one sees the character develop as he leans over the bar that separates him from the carousel. A hand lays over his, and when he faces to his side (the angle of the camera shows his face in full), the viewer sees his face change to a smile. However, this lasts only for a moment. Yet as to why, it remains a mystery as the screen never shows what the character sees. Instead, the next scene shows the character standing alone in front of the carousel before the credits roll.
The viewer is entitled to various interpretations. The filmmaker as an artist does not have to explain the full details of his work. But Dabbay admits that he, along with his editor Sharlene Mercado, has accomplished two versions of the film after principal photography took place at the Mary Rose Grand Carnival at Limketkai Center during CDO’s Higalaay Festival season. The official entry to Cinemagis unveils the face of another character that makes the protagonist smile (a young woman played by Angelika Gallardo).
But the version which the filmmaker has excitedly shared for the review is one which he prefers. Either way, both versions triumph with the use of silence and glaring images, and for generating multiple perspectives about the idea of happiness and wishful thinking - whether it is a choice to make or it happens in a brief moment in time.
Unlike most grand productions, this film has captured reality wherein the crowd featured in it was not intentionally instructed by the director. Rather, scenes were captured spontaneously and taken during one of the carnival’s busiest evenings, with only Dabbay and his minimal crew (including the actors Salon and Gallardo) filming and completing the process.
Nominated for multiple awards during Cinemagis 2019, much is in store for this work of art. Plus, it’s originally from CDO. Whether it’s up for another grand release after its premiere in January at the Xavier University Little Theater and SM City CDO Cinema 1, or it’s slated for another submission to a similar film festival, Dabbay’s “Perya” does not need to be talked about to be known. It only needs to be seen along with the character’s glimpse of happiness.