By Chanda Shahani
This writer watched “Busong” last April 21 at an exclusive screening of the multi-awarded film at the Shang Cineplex from April 18 to 24.
"Busong," which was shown commercially for the first time and exclusively at the Shang Cineplex, is directed by Auraeus Solito. The film was also selected for the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival and has been nominated and won prestigious awards in various film festivals including the Brussels International Independent Film Festival, the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, the Philippines Golden Screen Awards and the Star Awards for Movies.
Auraeus, who is known for his award-winning film Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, says that Busong was inspired by the stories his mother used to tell him. “She told me stories of a world nobody knew of, that was magical and pure. It was about her hometown of Puring at the end of Southern Palawan,” he shares. The first of the indie filmmaker’s Palawan trilogy, the film stars Alessandra de Rossi (photo), who has won acting awards for her outstanding performances in independent and mainstream films.
Busong is the indigenous Palawanon concept of Fate or instant Karma. What you do to nature, you do to yourself. Nature does you harm when you harm it. Nature does you good when you respect it.
Punay was born with wounds in her feet. Her brother, Angkadang, carries her with a hammock. Different people help him carry his sister as he travels and searches the changing landscape of Palawan in hoping to find a healer who can heal Punay of her wounds- a woman who lost husband; a fisherman looking for his boat; and a young man who finds himself.
The film is divided into three landscapes in Palawan, an island on the southwestern area of the Philippines: Forest, Sea and Mountain. In the forest they meet Ninita who helps Angkadang carry Punay. Ninita relates her story of how she searched for her husband Tony in the forest through the sound of his chainsaw. Ninita’s husband is an illegal logger who cut the sacred Amugis tree, which falls on him. Ninita brings his body to the healer Claring who succeeds in bringing him back to life for a while but he eventually dies in Ninita’s arms. Ninita’s husband has met his Busong. Angkadang asks Ninita to bring them to Claring.
They see the islet of Minan Claring but it is high tide, and they cannot swim the sea because the salt water will hurt Punay’s wounds. They meet the fisherman Lulong who has lost his boat…and his son is missing too! He helps Angkadang and Punay and tells them his story, how his boat was confiscated when he fished in a private area. He and his son, Toti, were left in the middle of a sandbar. It is good that Lulong knows the secret name of the stonefish so he and his son are protected from the poisonous fish as they cross the sandbar. The foreign owner of the fishing area that once belonged to the Palawan people, who humiliates him and takes his boat, steps on a stonefish, meeting his Busong.
When Angkarang and Punay reach the islet of Minan Claring, she says that she cannot heal Punay and suggests that they climb the highest mountain of Palawan, the Mantalingahan range where the great healers live. On their way there they meet a young modern man, Aris, who was a shaman’s apprentice. He was told he could not become a shaman. But as Punay sees a mountain bleeding from a nickel mine, Aris heals her wounds and transforms them into butterflies.
While beautifully rendered, with many stunning scenes of the varied and pristine landscape of Palawan, I could not but help feel that the film mostly catered to the European love of mysticism and primitivism. If you wanted to win an international award, this is precisely the kind of film that you would produce. However the symbolism derived from the word, “Busong,” which is “fate,” draws a compelling story and acts as a kind of latter day Palaweño morality tale saying that those who cross unspoken boundaries of respect for others and of Mother Nature are sure to meet their busong. In this regard, the film is timeless and yet quintessentially Filipino.