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Rant and Rave: Through music and love, ‘Katips’ sheds truth on Martial Law atrocities

“How big can one get against a force too much bigger than yourself?” 

An outcry of the hopeful, a requiem for the fallen–such is the description of the long-awaited Katips: The Movie. Originally a 2016 theater production staged by Director Vince Tañada, its narrative moves away from the polarization of politics to shed light on tribulations of student activists during the Martial Law Era, portraying the battle for ideals at the crux of youth amid press blackouts and red-tagging. 

At the 70th FAMAS Awards, the period musical garnered seven awards out of its 17 nominations including Best Picture, Best Score, and Best Cinematography. Due to its critical acclaim, Katips saw an extended cinema showing period and increased cinema openings. In the name of unfailing democracy, Katips: The Movie holds its ground against suppressive power to uphold truth and justice, carrying on the spirit of the films namesake—the Katipuneros

Tales of youth

The film opens with a fiery protest led by several student organizations denouncing the Ferdinand Marcos Sr. administration. The portrayal of the First Quarter Storm is laden with unrest, visible in the restless choreography and impassioned singing as they gather more and more people to believe in their cause. 

Katips definitely pulls no punches in highlighting the robbery of the people’s democratic freedom. With most of the characters being tortured writers and journalists, Marcos Sr.’s silencing of the media through news blackouts is a focal point of the film. The inevitability of being red-tagged as subversives and communists was the cruel reality of not only the fictional characters on-screen, but in Filipinos’ history as well. In hindsight, it is a nudge for people to uphold press freedom, as the free press is an indicator of a functioning democracy to hold those in power accountable. 

The diverse characterization depicts the dimension of humanity under martial law. There is Jerome Ponce’s Greg, who presents the hope found in all protestors for change to come. Meanwhile, Nicole Asensio plays the balikbayan Lara, who arrives at the rise of the turmoil, originally ignorant and clueless to the terrors. Tañada reprises his role from stage to screen as Panyong, an intrepid writer for the newsletter of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Ang Bayan—numb to everything but love. Finally, there is Art, played by Best Supporting Actor Winner Johnrey Rivas, the photographer for the Philippine Collegian who embodies the eagerness of the young to be part of change. 

Coming out to a running time of nearly 142 minutes, the film’s pacing gives the viewers enough time to firmly grasp what each of the characters’ stakes are in their continuous protest. The coinciding narratives have the audience rooting for the entire ensemble, hanging onto the edge of their seats and hoping against all odds that they succeed. With that, the film rounds out with the notion that no matter how long it takes and what lengths are needed to be reached, justice will always prevail in the end.

They are the burning fire

To triumph the plight for justice, actors must take center stage. 

Ponce perfectly embodies Greg’s character, who is firm and vocal about his ideals and beliefs as a young activist. But his onscreen romance with Lara, seems rushed, which inevitably leads to the lack of strong bond between their characters throughout the film. Although a rookie actress, Ascencio captivates the audience with her soothing vocals—impeccably capturing Lara’s emotions. 

Another depiction of the youth is through Rivas’ portrayal of Art, capturing the character’s innocence that turns to intrepidity. Rivas’ outstanding acting skill is highlighted when his character goes through a gruesome fate at the hands of the Philippine Constabulary. 

Such depictions of police brutality are reflected through Mon Confiado’s Lt. Sales. Known for his excellent range as a performer, Confiado is a representation of terror and fear that the Metropol rouses toward civilians. However, most of his dialogue is overtly filled with curse words, which does not give much depth to his character. 

Meanwhile, the Katipuneros find solace through the impassioned duo of Tañada’s Ka Panyong and Adelle Ibarrientos’ Alet. Ka Panyong is the tenacious leader, while Alet acts as the caring mother of the group—the Tandang Sora. Alet and Ka Panyong’s love and eventual despair fuel their desires to continue to fight for justice and democracy in a land of hopelessness. 

Melody of the past

The traces of the film’s stage play origins are still apparent throughout the film, such as in the backdrop pieces, wardrobe, and choreography. However, some of the theatrical elements carried over from the live action play are not as easily translated into  the cinematic adaptation. 

Stagecraft materials that seem out of place are carried over to the film, mainly when these pieces are situated beyond its fictitious world building. Similarly, the music and dance ensemble are not seamlessly integrated into the film as it only appears to be a reverie between the characters for the sake of retaining these theatrical features. As a result, Katips comes off as a play unripe for a cinematic remake.

But the crown jewel of the film is its music. The melodies are meant to be a striking point of the film, as conveyed by present-day Ka Panyong saying that he wants to recount the story of their past as Katipuneros through the universal language of music. This was made possible thanks to Pipo Cifra, who breathed life into the composition and soundtrack of the film. 

The catchy First Quarter Storm effectively narrates the story of civil unrest which triggered the declaration of Martial Law in 1972. Meanwhile, the iconic rendition of Tañada’s Manhid is sung with the poignancy of a love that would eventually devolve into deep-seated anger in its reprise toward the end of the film. The subplot of the characters’ love stories is perfectly encapsulated in the song Sa Gitna ng Gulo, which justifies its FAMAS award of Best Original Song. Indeed, a playlist of the film’s musical pieces would strongly resonate with the film’s stricken and captivated audience.  

What they don’t tell you

As the music fades, Katips reminds us of history not through the conspicuous figures of the Martial Law Era, but through the raw portrayal of the truth. The existence of the dauntless heroes who fought for democracy amid the atrocities cannot be erased, despite what historical revisionism may claim. The film is a wakeup call to those blinded by fanaticism that beyond their stained perception of the “golden age” of Martial Law lies the horrifying circumstances of the people. The tragic fate of these victims and those bodies unfound is a constant reminder that this was once a lived reality of the Filipinos and not just chismis

Despite the anger and the tears shed, the film’s humanizing narrative revolves around a love that blossomed from kindred ideals amid the chaos. The modern-day Katipuneros’ undying love for the country, the Filipino people, and the future generation inspire them to champion people’s rights and civil liberties.

Although the film is unable to boast of outstanding cinematography, Katips successfully diverts the audience’s attention toward the substance of its storytelling. Indeed, a film like this is quintessential in the present, with the result of the recent national elections enabling the proliferation of historical distortion toward the dark days of Martial Law. In the end, Katips imparts a message to the new generation to honor and to never forget Filipinos’ history in commemorating those who crusaded for the newfound freedom the Philippines’ people revel in today. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

By Clarisse Bernal

By Laurence Pontejos

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