Homeward, Bound

Washington City Paper | July 28, 2006
The plot of Cavite couldn’t be simpler—or more compelling. Co-directed and -written by Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon, Cavite doesn’t have one false note, from the performance by its essentially single actor (Gamazon) to the perplexed reactions of bystanders in the squatters camps and alleys in which the action takes place. (When you don’t have a permit to film in a location, the extras tend to be pretty convincing.)

Gamazon plays Adam, a thoroughly Americanized Filipino and bored security guard in San Diego who gets a call from his mother to come home because his father was killed in a bus bombing. So Adam heads to Cavite, a city in Manila, arguing with his girlfriend about her unplanned pregnancy in one airport and wondering with annoyance where Mom is when he lands in Manila. Then Adam hears a cell phone ringing and realizes it’s coming from an envelope that was placed in his bag. The envelope also contains pictures of his kidnapped mother and sister. The person on the other end of the phone (voiced by Jeffrey Lagda) doesn’t waste any time in ordering Adam to obey his every command, lest, of course, his family be killed.

The brisk 80-minute movie is the debut of Llana and a second film for Gamazon. It consists entirely of following Adam as he’s instructed to take buses, walk certain streets, and pick up packages by his family’s omniscient captor—how he knows of Adam’s exact whereabouts is never explained. He’s guided to a severed body part. A cockfight. A bank, to withdraw a significant amount of cash from his father’s account that was allegedly exchanged for treachery against a Muslim group. The camera bobs with Adam, and occasional flashes of graphic, orange-tinged photos shock the viewer out of the film’s initial normalcy. But otherwise, Cavite is spare: The soundtrack, if it can be called that, is mostly a tension-building tick-tock percussion, though at one point a flute accompanies a scene of an impoverished but seemingly content family eating McDonald’s. Its sunny, outdoor milieu teeming with other people’s everyday routines contrasts vividly with Adam’s predicament, which subtly turns into an unfortunately topical political statement that pits the lives of many others against those of Adam’s mother and sister.

Gamazon is remarkably genuine as Adam. Jumping from irritated to grieving to terrified to, at times, belligerent—with a barrage of “Fuck, fuck, fuck” often accompanying each emotion—Gamazon’s pawn is always believable. Adam’s experience in his homeland, where there are signs that say, “It is illegal to take a shit on the sidewalk,” stuns him out of the comfort and excess of life in the states. And as it was to its character, the story Cavite tells will be devastating to most audiences.

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