‘Kun Maupay Man It Panahon’ review: Why the weather is never fine

First, the landfall. Then, all forms of destruction. 

In November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the deadliest climate disasters in history, made its way to the Philippines. In the typhoon’s wake, Tacloban, the worst-hit city, found itself in a place of unfathomable devastation — houses torn apart, thousands of lives lost, and families displaced. This is the premise of Carlo Francisco Manatad’s debut feature Kun Maupay Man It Panahon, an official entry to last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). 

The film follows the lives of three characters longing for better days: the distraught mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio), the passive son Miguel (Daniel Padilla), and the harsh, no-nonsense Andrea (Rans Rifol). When the trio learn that another storm is looming, they rush to the town’s port to catch a ship sailing to Manila, but Norma first has to find her missing husband and bid him goodbye, no matter the cost. 

Framed in a 1:33 aspect ratio and accompanied by Whammy Alcazaren’s truly immersive production design, Kun Maupay Man It Panahon paints a claustrophobic and harrowingly accurate picture of the wreckage of Tacloban. But it refuses to indulge in the melodramatic portrayal of the calamity, as Manatad and co-writers Giancarlo Abrahan and Jérémie Dubois opt for magical realism: trading logic for absurdity and plain suffering for emotional ambiguity.

In the eye of the storm, we see dead bodies scattered and left unattended, a group of children playing like nothing happened, a kid pretending to eat popcorn out of an empty bucket, and devotees staging a procession, desperately latching onto anything miraculous. Initially, the terrible quiet comes in ripples until it morphs into terrifying, big waves that swallow us whole and slow, most visible every time the characters halt in midair, as though waiting for something to happen, despite the air of hopelessness.

These allegories and images are reflective of the resilience of the Filipino spirit, the healthy and the toxic, that is deeply ingrained in our culture so much so that it becomes a convenient excuse in the aftermath of any crisis, which still rings true today, especially after the recent catastrophe brought by Typhoon Odette.

These people are not out of their minds, the film seems to argue. They simply seek for the slightest hint of normalcy. They comfort themselves with fiction. They conjure truths and let it devour them so long as they have reasons to carry on with their lives, because at this point, sanity hardly matters. 

Aided by Roman Dymny’s lucid sound design and Teck Siang Lim’s calmingly off-kilter cinematography, Kun Maupay Man It Panahon conditions us to accept this apocalyptic milieu, so it then becomes easier to digest when everything gets more bizarre and distorted. A carabao pulling a nipa hut emerges out of nowhere. There’s a man resurrected from the dead. There’s a lion eyeing a crowd of people celebrating and doing Zumba amid the tragedy.

But nothing from this outlandishness feels misplaced. All of this absurdity is warranted when everyone we love is gone and everything we have is reduced into rubble. It’s simple to argue that the eccentric tone pokes fun at the survivors of the typhoon, a sentiment that is not without merit, but what the film offers is hardly abstract. It shows how shellshocked people respond to the weight of trauma, or how they become desensitized to it in the process. 

A scene involving Norma and Miguel towards the end, one of the film’s best moments, perfectly captures this absurdity, in which Norma begs her son to deliberately hurt her using a rock, so she can gain entry to the astrodome where the injured are treated and look for her husband there. While Santos-Concio’s remarkable onscreen presence registers effortlessly, Padilla steals one’s attention with his role’s restrained desperation that pleasurably turns into a moment of rupture, which easily makes this compelling performance his best thus far. 

Through the characters, we try to find meaning in the meaninglessness and navigate the unease of the whole situation little by little. The film, then, allows us to interrogate the lengths we are willing to go through to escape and find even a faint semblance of relief in the face of destruction, especially if all we have is a negligent government that tells us not to panic, all while offering us no concrete help. This is how complex Filipino resilience exactly looks like. And while it’s admirable, resilience is also dangerous because, oftentimes, it maintains the status quo and absolves the powers that be of any accountability. 

Unlike the disaster that is Don’t Look Up, which hardly offers anything subversive or useful, Kun Maupay Man It Panahon is, at its core, a more nuanced and sharper story of the climate crisis: about how social structures continue to fail us, how environmentalism without class struggle is nothing but a futile attempt to enact change, and how climate justice is more urgent now than ever. Manatad not only succeeds in depicting a condition unique to Tacloban but manages to point out something pervasive in the larger, bleaker system of our sad republic.

Of course, changes in the zeitgeist since Yolanda hit the Philippines are hard to ignore: the rise of Rodrigo Duterte and his draconian rule, the blatant extrajudicial killings, the crackdown against journalists and dissenters, the inoperative pandemic response, and the impending return of the Marcoses to power. 

Yet, over the years, one thing remains the same: the weather is never fine. This is what Kun Maupay Man It Panahon attempts to say, and says it in a twisted, whimsical way, without glossing over the real issue. 

But it makes sense that the film skews towards spectacle in the way it ends because it cannot simply echo the illusion of a better tomorrow that people at positions of power often take advantage of, especially when it seems like no relief is coming in this corner of the world. The film reflects devastation as felt squarely by those on the fringes, no matter how hard we neglect it. It is restless and relentless, approaching us with magnitude, like a storm that never calms.

Kun Maupay Man It Panahon premiered at the 74th Locarno Film Festival (Competition) on August 9, 2021, bagging the Cinema e Gioventù Prize, and will be streamed on ktx.ph, iWantTFC, and Upstream.ph starting February 9, 2022. 

NOTE: This piece was originally written for a J103 Interpretative Writing class under Assoc. Prof. Danilo Arao.

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