Children of the mist

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Directed by Ralston Jover

By Noel Vera

Ralston Jover’s Hamog (Haze, 2015) starts appropriately enough with just that: a thick cloud hovering low over humid Manila canals. The camera (presumably mounted on a drone) glides towards and rises over a huge sewer pipe lined with cardboard, on which the homeless young lie sleeping.

This is Jover straying into a genre (the urban underaged poor) that has produced a number of powerful films: Hector Babenco’s Pixote, Vittorio de Sica’s Shoeshine, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows, and, above all, Luis Bunuel’s savagely great Los Olvidados.

The Philippines has struggled to produce an equivalent and has not quite succeeded in my opinion, though Jover’s debut feature Bakal Boys (still to my mind his best work to date) is a fine attempt.

This film isn’t as good — it doesn’t have that first feature’s directness or simplicity or plainspoken poetry — but that may partly be because this is more inordinately ambitious hence doomed to experience failure; its courage should be recognized.

The plot proper starts out with the aforementioned boys’ attempt to steal from taxi driver Danny (OJ Mariano) then splits into two separate threads: the first follows Rashid (Zaijan Jaranilla) as he mourns one of their own: Moy (Bon Andrew Lentejas) who was hit by a speeding minivan while evading pursuit. Rashid feels he has to give his “brod” a proper burial, and finds out (much as the eponymous character did in Laszlo Nemes’s Son of Saul) that a burial isn’t an easy feat to accomplish, not in a concentration camp, not as a homeless kid in the streets of Manila.

Rashid hustles, begs, steals. At one point you have to ask: Why is he doing this? Jover doesn’t provide easy answers but two come to mind: Moy was a friend and a friend on streets where people turn on you more often than help you is gold; Moy’s death was an opportunity for Rashid to throw himself into a quest, any quest, and this is also gold — better than endless days of sniffing glue, hustling for money to buy glue. The second story’s more interesting and more problematic. Jinky (Therese Malvar) is caught by Danny; he drags her to the police, to social services, then to her home where he discovers a loud slatternly woman with a half dozen kids and zero interest in getting her daughter back. Now (slight implausible turn of events here) he reluctantly volunteers to take her home as a housemaid.

For every narrative development that appears outlandish (his wife enjoys an open relationship with another man), Jover adds one that lands surprisingly right (the wife’s boyfriend openly and continually prepositions Jinky); for every character trait that feels ill-prepared (the wife does a sudden about-turn, offers Jinky a home), we see one that strikes us as eerily honest (Danny refuses to have sex with Jinky or his wife; thanks to his odd domestic situation he seems to have given up sex altogether). 

Perhaps Jover needed to do a few more drafts of the script, perhaps he needed a longer format to introduce each twisted detail properly, perhaps he needed to work on his tone (A black comedy?). All that said Hamog is not vaporous; there’s enough ideas here for two and a half films, maybe three. A handful of those ideas stay with you, like a troublesome girl who refuses to fit anywhere no matter how hard you try.

MTRCB Rating: R-16