Mikhail Red’s “Birdshot” is a work of art. The film centers on 14-year-old Maya who lives with her father Diego in some undisclosed farmland. Diego’s wife died in childbirth, and he is getting old, so he tries everything he can to teach Maya the ways of living—and that includes hunting. One day, with her shaggy black dog Bala, Maya finds her way to the sanctuary. She needs to prove to herself that she could stand on her own, and this brings her to an irreversible decision that changes everything. She unknowingly shot a haribon, a Philippine Eagle that is now close to extinction due to urban developments, illegal logging, and forest burning. This is where police officer Mendoza and his rookie subordinate Domingo come in to investigate. It’s hard giving justice to its brilliance without spoiling it. Even if “Birdshot” utilizes the methods of a police procedural and the coming-of-age story, it propels forward to places that you’d never expect, to situations that would unnerve and jolt you. Red’s direction is close to perfect. He has the polish of Chito Roño, poetic flourishes of Lav Diaz, the critical sensibilities of Marilou Diaz-Abaya. The absence of the specificities of time and place gives “Birdshot” an almost mythic feel. Everything's not what it seems to be—scarecrows seem to come alive, shadowy figures lurk in corners—and this is best portrayed by how complacency and good intentions of a higher system can actually have deeper, more sinister motives. Idealistic minds could get corrupted. In one scene, John Arcilla’s Mendoza tells his partner, “Trabaho lang yan… iinom lang natin yan”, and you cannot help but think of our country’s nightmares that consume our waking moments—like the innocent 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos who was killed by police officers last August 16. As the end credits rolled, I suddenly felt all the wrong decisions this country has made, and just broke down and cried. Fiction creeping into reality is nothing new. But when the distinctions are blurred or altogether removed, when life becomes stranger than fiction, it is high time we stand up, speak out, and remedy the situation. “Birdshot” is that eagle’s cry we all need to hear.
[ photo borrowed from this site ]