Review: ‘Bunso: The Youngest’

After their brilliant, oddly upbeat 2003 "Life on the Tracks," helmer Ditsi Carolino and camerawoman Nana Buxani venture into considerably darker territory in "Bunso," filmed almost entirely inside a Filipino jail which houses both adult and child prisoners in highly unhealthy, overcrowded facilities.

After their brilliant, oddly upbeat 2003 “Life on the Tracks,” helmer Ditsi Carolino and camerawoman Nana Buxani venture into considerably darker territory in “Bunso,” filmed almost entirely inside a Filipino jail, which houses both adult and child prisoners in highly unhealthy, overcrowded facilities. Vividly delineating three vibrant young inmates who serve as the film’s protagonists, Carolino confirms her remarkable ability to showcase the resiliency of those living in the most appalling circumstances. Strong, strikingly composed, UNICEF-funded docu, which has already sparked embarrassment and reforms at home, and snagged Carolino a best helmer prize at Amsterdam’s One World fest.

Anthony, the eldest and most articulate of the three youths and the one who has done the most jail time, matter-of-factly assumes the role of guide, pointing out the cramped floor where 150 juveniles are supposed to sleep. The camera roams unrestrictedly through the open spaces shared by adults and kids, as the inmates line up for food, only to be turned away when it runs out.

The compound supplies no medicine, no schooling, and no activity except for a single TV set. Widespread tattooing and self-mutilation bear silent witness to the unending, unbroken tedium.

But what makes “Bunso” so memorable is less its expose of prison conditions than the criminal waste of human potential everywhere in evidence and variously manifested by the three different children.

The littlest kid in prison, nicknamed Bunso (the youngest), whose addiction to glue led him to steal to support his habit, starts out as the hoosegow clown, but grows visibly angrier, more restless and petulant as the film progresses. Watched over and teased by the adult prisoners, his contentious relationship with his mother, who may be indirectly responsible for his unusually long stay, provides interactive drama for the whole prison populace.

Diosel, an endearing street urchin who was feeding himself and his siblings by singing and begging at malls or panhandling on the roadside, radiates a sweet innocence with his frail voice lifting eagerly in song. The new kid on the cell block, Diosel is soon taken under jail-wise Anthony’s protective wing.

If pic has a star, it is Anthony. Open, likeable and wise beyond his years, he is already a professional thief. Given his charisma, caring and intelligence, he clearly could be an asset to any endeavor, were other options available. But when the camera follows him home after his release, it discovers an environment even more toxic than the jail.

Buxani and Carolino’s extraordinary DV lensing, humanizing and enlivening the most degrading milieu, packs a wallop, belying the claustrophobic, on-the-fly conditions of production.

Bunso: The Youngest

Philippines

Production

A Consuelo Foundation/UNICEF production. Produced, directed by Ditsi Carolino.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Nana Buxani, Carolino; editor, Emile Guertin; music, Gary Granada; sound, Peter Marquez; assistant director, Buxani. Reviewed at Imaginasian Cinema, New York, May 17, 2006. (In Silver Docs Festival, Maryland; also in One World Festival, Amsterdam.) Running time: 64 MIN. (Tagalog dialogue.)
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