A River Worth More than a Thousand Films

Review of the film, Panaghoy sa Suba
CM Films Inc.
Director: Cesar Montano

The strength of the movie is in its cinematic shots of the river and how the peoples’ lives are intertwined with this natural beauty. The local flavor is worth more than a thousand Hollywood films.

By Julie Po

Panaghoy sa Suba (Call of the River), a film told mainly in Cebuano, is set in a village beside the Loboc River in Bohol during the Japanese Occupation. The lead character, Duroy (Cesar Montano), is a boatman, ferrying passengers for a fee. He is in love with Iset (Juliana Palermo), a beautiful village lass who is also the love interest of Duroy’s younger brother Ibo (Reiven Bulado), an American businessman, and, later, Fumio Okohara (Jackie Woo), commander of Japanese occupation forces.

The story revolved around this quadrangle, although it brushed through the tranquil lives of people in the barrio, the relations of natives with a foreign capitalist, and the resistance of Filipinos to the Japanese occupation forces.

The strength of the movie is in its cinematic shots of the river and how the peoples’ lives are intertwined with this natural beauty. The market scenes showed how nature nurture the people as the camera panned through the bountiful farm and sea harvests. The barrio scenes were quaint and realistically rustic. It gave a glimpse into the spirit of simple but happy barrio folks.

However, the strength of the movie is also its weakness. The story was lost amidst the beauty of the cinematography. The actors played their parts well, but their characters did not develop or, if at all, not definitive enough for the audience to empathize with or despise their person and emotion.

There were attempts to bring in depth – nationalist messages in symbolic and historical context. The confusion starts and ends here.

The Japanese forcibly occupied our country from 1942 to 1945. The Japanese forces were ruthless, as all invading forces are. About one million Filipinos were killed during this period.


In the movie, history was empirical. Not all Japanese forces assigned to the Philippines were bad, so Fumio Okohara, the commander, was portrayed as just and benevolent. The soldiers were rude, but not brutal. (This kind treatment of the Japanese must have been due to the Japanese-sounding name in the list of executive producers.)

When the Japanese arrived at the barrio, the villagers organized a resistance group and made camp in the mountains. Duroy joined them. When the leader (Joel Torre) died of malaria, Duroy took over. Three years later, the group was still in the mountains and still dying of malaria. Finally, toward the end, they attack the Japanese.

At one point, while in the mountains, an American offered arms to help them fight the Japanese. Duroy rejected the aid, and said that (close-up, with piercing eyes, conjoined brows and tense lips) the Filipinos can fight their own battles and will fight to death with whoever occupies their native land!

He forgot. The Philippines was an American colony before the Japanese came. There was no allusion whatsoever in the movie of Filipino resistance to American occupation – a historical fact.

Iset could have been meant as a symbolism for Motherland. She tantalized the locals and the rich and powerful foreigners through her beauty and charm. She lacked strength of character, though, making her, at some points, just like a poster model of WOW Philippines.

The American businessman and the Japanese officer could have symbolized the foreign countries attracted to the beauty and richness of our country and, thus, would want to control and exploit it. Duroy’s father who left his family to live with an American woman could be the symbol of Filipinos who prefer imported rather than local products. (A bit too literal, but it is logical.) Iset’s opportunistic aunt and collaborator father could symbolize Filipinos whose loyalties are to foreign rather than national interests.

Profound messages. Unfortunately, too deeply hidden in the metaphor.

In another light, the characters could have been meant as just themselves. The only way to find out is by watching the movie yourself. The local flavor is worth more than a thousand Hollywood films. Bulatlat.com

Julie L. Po is the Secretary General of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

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