Casting a revealing light on the dreams of undocumented Filipino workers who make a dangerous crossing from Mindanao to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo, as well as on their economic plight, affecting drama “Ways of the Sea” introduces a strong new talent in director-writer Sheron R. Dayoc. Managing to suggest a lot with very little, this skillfully crafted gem has already played top festivals in Asia, and is starting its European tour. Human rights events and specialty broadcasters should take note.
As a microcosm of humanity gathers on a makeshift dock in Bongao, Tawi Tawi, to await passage on a leaky banca, their backstories are revealed through brief scenes and character traits. The group includes a pair of Badjao siblings (Aljimar Hajijol, Arnalyn Ismael), a brassy, middle-aged, Visayan prostitute (Maria Isabel Lopez), a beleaguered pimp (John Arcilla) and his unsuspecting protegee (Ross-Ann Dalkis). The uncomfortable nighttime voyage fills pic’s second half, including a refueling stop where the shocked young woman gets an early taste of her fate. Sensitive handheld lensing includes some seafaring shots of painterly beauty. Sparse but well-used score featuring percussion and folksongs effectively underlines climactic and emotional moments.