The 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has been quite distinct that it stirred online talks on many of its movies, including Mallari, GomBurZa, Rewind, and, of course, the festival’s movie of the year, Firefly.
This is a testament to the improvement of the film festival’s variety of choices, after being controversial in the past for only releasing the same types of mainstream Christmas stories centered on old Filipino movie franchises and old-style comedies.
I watched all four earlier mentioned movies, skipping the other entries that didn’t seem to stand out literary-wise. All I can say is that GMA’s Firefly deserved its win.
The story of Firefly revolved around Tonton, a children’s book author who became a national artist for writing and drawing the story of the “Alitaptap and Paro-paro” or Firefly and Butterfly.
The adult Tonton, played by Dingdong Dantes, narrated how he came up with the story from his childhood. The story was told by his mother, Elay, who died of breast cancer when he was barely 10 years old.
Elay, played by Alessandra de Rossi, has told the story of the Firefly and Butterfly encountering a wolf in a forest. She also told of a firefly island in Sorsogon where if only found, the fireflies would grant the seeker a single wish.
Upon his mother’s death, the young Tonton, played by Euwenn Mikaell, went on an adventure, carrying his mother’s ashes with him to find this island, presumably named Ticao.
On his journey, he found three stowaways: a girl named Erika who ran away from home, Billy who is on his way home to Sorsogon after being scammed by the woman he loved, and Manong Louie who was recently released from prison after being accused of illegal recruitment.
The three journeyed through the Bicol region to find this cave, each character facing their fears and heartaches along the way.
When they finally reached the firefly cave, Tonton had to face his wolf…the reality that his mother would not be coming back.
The story ends with Tonton overcoming his wolf and growing up to become a National Artist at the start of the story.
The story was well-written with the right pacing. But what I truly enjoyed about it was how fleshed out the other characters were. Because there weren’t so many characters, each had enough screen time for us to understand their personalities and why they reacted to Tonton in a certain way.
The writing was also impeccable. The story was able to accurately portray childhood trauma. According to various psychological studies, children who go through extreme trauma develop vivid fantasies, almost realistic, as a protection against the trauma they experience.
As someone who also went through childhood trauma, I can confirm that children with such experiences often grow up to be extremely creative. Fantasies are our safe space, our escape from the harsh world.
When my mother died back when I was only 12 years old, I developed an extreme ability to create fantasies in my head. This allowed me to survive the years to come from that painful experience.
Tonton truly embodies that. I can’t help but see myself in Tonton as he journeyed through his grief. A child’s grief is pure, compounded emotions in such a small body.
Watching Firefly play out that grief in its design allowed me to talk to my inner child during the movie and understand better what I went through.
Firefly was indeed a beautiful film that showed the Filipino child’s psyche in a terrible circumstance.
It’s the last day of the MMFF 2023. If you haven’t decided what to watch yet, I think you can’t go wrong with watching Firefly.