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A young rural woman from Mindanao province finds herself suddenly betrothed and, according to tradition, kept in her room until the wedding in Gutierrez Mangansakan II’s poignant, small-scale debut, “The Bridal Quarter.” Set in 1989 when Muslim rebel forces were easing resistance in expectation of government concessions, the pic tries to position the political situation as an ever-present backdrop but is far stronger when concentrating on the female-centered house and the clash between accepting elders and questioning youths. The digital copy at Venice was problematic, but Mangansakan’s affection comes through. Pic could attract attention at smaller fests.

Sixteen-year-old Ayesah (Jea Lyka Cinco) is told she’s to marry Hussein (Tristan Ace Galeos) in one month. As custom dictates, she must stay in her room while the women of the family ready her for the big day. Younger sis Saripa (Jamie Unte) questions why arranged marriages are necessary, feeding Ayesah’s own doubts, made stronger by the apparently negative example set by the previous generation. Mom Amina (Mayka Lintongan) stoically suffers barbed remarks by neighbors wondering how she can cope now that husband Malindata (Gus Miclat) has taken, as per custom, a second wife, while maiden aunt Farida (Tetchie Agbayani) attends to the wedding preparations with a mysterious, melancholy air.

Ayesah’s uncertainties are reinforced when former crush Maguid (Joem Bascon) reappears after several years of fighting for the rebels. Unwittingly, he becomes a slightly destabilizing presence, representing one of many “what ifs” for the young woman caught between tradition and modernity. Toward the pic’s end, an older woman (Marilyn Roque) tells the ever-questioning Ayesah that with an open heart and mind, all will be clear, but Mangansakan knows that choosing between embracing one’s heritage or facing a future cut loose from tradition will always be fraught with self-doubt.

One of the pic’s chief pleasures is its depiction of the family’s symbiotic relationship with its lush surroundings, lovingly lensed and clearly as much a part of “home” as the inside of the family manse. Radio reports in the background are meant to keep auds aware of the changes about to take place for the province, soon to be declared an autonomous Muslim region, but too often they feel merely intrusive.

Mangansakan succeeds nicely in granting value to the customs of the Moro people of Mindanao, incorporating lovely-to-look-at ceremonies that never feel gratuitously ethnographic. When visible, colors are rich and bright, but the Venice digital print had major problems in the dark passages, rendering many scenes all but impossible to decipher.

The Bridal Quarter

Philippines

  • Production: A Cinemalaya presentation of a Bidadali House production. Produced, directed, written by Gutierrez Mangansakan II.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), McRobert Nacario; editor, Dempster Samarista; music, Waway Linsahay Saway; production designer, Paramata Endawan; costume designer, John Philip Matalam; assistant director, Yam Palma; sound, Samarista. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 11, 2010. Running time: 83 MIN.
  • With: With: Tetchie Agbayani, Jea Lyka Cinco, Joem Bascon, Jamie Unte, Mayka Lintongan, Chico Christian Pace, Gus Miclat, Tristan Ace Galeos, Jetrose Bongell, Marilyn Roque. (Maguindanaon, Tagalog dialogue)
  • Music By: