Fable Of The Fish


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Fable Of The Fish
"At the end of it one sits, dumbfounded."

A couple are forced by circumstance to move. They are old, tired, childless. Yet in their new home they will conceive a child, a child who will usher them into a new prosperity. A child who is a fish.

They come from the provinces, they have settled in Catmon, living in a complex structure in the shantytown that abuts a landfill site - in the distance cranes and communication towers signal an outside world that is irrelevant, reduced to the occasional intervention of television crews, voices from the radio, of the police. In this place where years of waste are picked through by scavengers for PET plastics to recycle, where apocalyptic fires burn, choking clouds of god knows what, drifts of videotape.

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There is world enough between Miguel (Bembel Roco) and Lina (Cherry Pie Picache), between small movements and exhausted stares, little smiles and sighs and set expressions. Roco's performance is frequently minimal, Miguel exists, but grudgingly, trudgingly. Lina, fully Merlina, has a happier outlook, her optimism made stronger when she discovers a statue of Santa Peregrina - the pregnant Mary.

Symbolism abounds, from the monsoon that heralds little Miguelito's arrival, the portentous horror serials on the radio, recursion to fire and water, a father holding his son at knife-point. Imagery abounds too, beautifully so: the sedimentary layers of the trash field, its square-cut kipple canyons as alien a landscape as the coalfields of Jalainur; bodies in the water, the sun shining down an alley of garbage; scenes that are framed, re-framed in frame, with mirrors; the quality of light when woken by an inferno.

Like Lin it seems a piece of a myth-cycle that is unguessable, implied - within the devout Catholic framework of the Philippines it acquires extra weight, further connotations - Isda is not so heavy-handed as Prometheus, no calendars are stuck to walls with "25th December" circled in a thick red line - instead we have the fish, the river, the aquarium, the pet-shop. Amazing located, the hinterland by the docks, that imminent prosperity signaled with motorcycles and shops, its origins only ever implied.

It has a mythic quality that's hard to express because it is so much bound up in the matter of factness with which director Adolfo Boringa Alix Jr portrays events. Eigen Ignacio's music contributes positively, but it's on Cherry Pie's performance that everything rests. She's amazing - stolid, wide-eyed, but never less than convincing, at least to audiences. Isda, Fable Of The Fish is a fable, there's even perhaps a discernable moral, but more of it is drawn from tone - it recalls the intensity of first discovering how Loki mothered Sleipnir, how Lot's wife was transformed, how Enki cast his seed into the river and how the mantle of the bat fell upon Bruce Wayne's shoulders.

At the end of it one sits, dumbfounded. It's not just the erratic, glacial pace of the story, with its strange stations in a lumpen litany. Nor is it its quirks beyond the lens - in the credits, for example, the telephone numbers of some of the suppliers and caterers are listed. Ultimately, it's in the fact that this is the story of a woman who gives birth to a fish. What strikes, what catches and compels is that this is a story told straight. There's humour, certainly, inevitably, and tragedy and hubris and all else, but around the flickering campfire of cinema, before this altar of film, Fable Of The Fish assembles an iconography of almost naive realism. It is almost as if it's medieval, unacquainted with perspective. What elevates it from merely weird to very good is that utter lack of poise - it is a rude church here, in no way arch.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2012
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The mythic tale of a woman who gives birth to a fish.

Director: Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr

Writer: Jerry Gracio

Starring: Cherry Pie Picache, Bembol Roco, Anita Linda, Rosanna Roces, Angel Aquino, Allan Paule, Evelyn Vargas, Arnold Reyes

Year: 2011

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Philippines


EIFF 2012

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