Tondo, Beloved: To What Are the Poor Born?


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Tondo, Beloved: To What Are the Poor Born?
"The single most striking thing about this film is the soundscape. "

Tondo, Beloved: To What Are The Poor Born focusses on a single family, headed by Virgie Simpron - a pregnant mother of three, with another on the way. The family is workless, but not apparently for lack of trying. They live in a dank house on the coast, near a gargantuan shipping port - the house walls are made of plywood, decorated with pirated DVD art. It's in a deeply deprived area of Tondo, Manila.

To What Are The Poor Born is a gently observational film, depicting the sheer boredom and lack of opportunities for families in such circumstances. Jewel Marahan has directed with invisible grace; there is no point during the film where her subjects draw attention to the fact that they're being filmed.

Copy picture

We first meet Virgie fishing, the slick sea washing over her feet. She improvises with her bait, using whatever roaches and insects are available. One of the children (no more than eight years old) guts the tiny catches afterwards. It's implicit that the children aren't quite eating enough, or the right kind of foods. Catching shrimps in a toxic sea. "The sea is bad, [the] colour of milk" - it's awash in plastic trash and diseased, slippery seaweed.

The family's day-to-day lives are covered well. Food preparation is especially important, bartering what precious money they have for small piles of starchy nosh. The family have somehow scrounged fruit gelatines, which taste terribly bland - the children plead for sugar, ice and milk - they know the price of these commodities well already. They're learning to read from discarded tabloid gossip rags.

The single most striking thing about this film is the soundscape. I cannot begin to imagine how one would get to sleep, even in moments of comparative stillness; it's unrelenting. Dogs bark, neighbours thump on the walls and floors, the children howl and plead, and cocks crow. There simply is not a moment of quiet reflection.

The film is about 30 minutes too long; it would make a very potent short subject documentary. Nevertheless, it's an incisive, often interesting vision of the paucity of social welfare that continues to exist. The opening title card states that it's a continuing documentary - one assumes there are many more.

Reviewed on: 28 Jun 2012
Share this with others on...
Tondo, Beloved: To What Are the Poor Born? packshot
A deprived family's day-to-day survival in Manila.

Director: Jewel Maranan

Starring: Virgie Simpron

Year: 2011

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: Philippines


EIFF 2012

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Up The Yangtze