Poverty without self-pity

■ Child actors Buboy Villar and Miggs Cuaderno

■ Child actors Buboy Villar and Miggs Cuaderno

A review of ‘Children’s Show’

Children’s Show (directed and written by Roderick Cabrido; screenplay by Ralston Jover) is my favorite of the films in the New Breed Category of Cinemalaya X.

It surprised me from beginning to end, refusing as it did to engage in the discussion about poverty that has become stereotypical of our local indie films. I sat there for the half hour and kept thinking: of course one of these kids will die; of course things will go from bad to worse; of course at some point it will be too much to bear.

Instead this movie surprised me at every turn, with two lead characters so believable even as we haven’t seen them before.

Jun (Buboy Villar) is 14 years old, cautious even as he is street smart, working as a pedicab driver by day and fighting it out with other kids in a ring some nights. Jun’s 10-year-old brother Al (Miggs Cuaderno) is more feisty and daring, in and out of the ring, exchanging wisecracks with his kuya like they’re of the same age, living as they do like adults concerned with earning a living.

That these kids are hardened by their poverty is cliché at this point. Even the idea of putting these kids through a fight like animals slugging it out, is barely new. What was unexpected was how this violence was not “exoticized,” and this poverty not romanticized.

Instead it put into question this violence by refusing to deal with good and evil, creating a Kuya Elmo who recruits and trains these kids to fight, but who also does so without being a kontrabida by not forcing any kid to fight. This violence is also put into question by a father who is abusive whenever he is present.

The wonder of Children’s Show is how it let these kids remain innocent still, their naiveté consistent throughout the narrative. They worry about their grandmother, so they save up; their house is in dire need of repairs and they fix it themselves. There is time to fall in love for Jun, as there is time for play for both him and Al.

It is not the fighting that forces the kids to grow up. It is their abusive father who makes Al lose his leg, as it is he who puts Jun in a situation to stab him with a fork in all anger, until he is dead. The patricide is absolute justice for these kids, yet there is no sense that Jun is proud of what he has done. His guilt is one that coalesces with Al’s silence and anger, where all these emotions are in the house Jun and his friends fix up—he had earned a lot on that last fight.

Losing hope after losing his leg, Al is wheeled by Jun to where he had thrown their father’s body down a slope, straight to a dumpsite. It is the first time Jun speaks of how their father died; it is also the last time. Al sits on his wheelchair and says they are not to speak of it again. He is the older brother he isn’t.

The greatness of Children’s Show was the effort it took to tell this story with a careful hand, creating two lead characters who face the adult world as children, and seeing that task to its unexpected end. There is no self-pity here, neither is there hope. Jun and Al are children who do not think about the future, or the whys of their present desperate state. In the hands of a lesser writer and director, one can imagine a romanticized poverty and exoticized violence; in the hands of child actors less than Villar and Cuaderno it would all fall apart.

The Cinemalaya X jurors did not give this film its due, giving Best Film to Bwaya, and Best Screenplay and Director to Dagitab. It seems Cinemalaya itself cannot deal with the questions Children’s Show raises, and the discussion it wants to have. What a shame.


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