“Mga Anino ng Kahapon” (Shadows of the Past) — Alvin Yapan’s entry to the 2013 Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave Category — is a simple but affecting character study of the human mind and emotions. The story evolves from the physical to the spiritual to the psychological and mental as one family faces the unpredictable clash between a traumatic past and a series of recently alarming neighborhood events.
This heartfelt tale examines the world of schizophrenia and its many hideous faces with dignity and restraint. It explores the stigma associated with this mental condition without yielding to annoying stereotypes. This small film sets out as a powerful depiction of what it’s like to live with this mental disorder, while also addressing specific points across to a society that generally doesn’t have a clear understanding of this condition.
The story revolves around a typically struggling family that many Filipinos can relate to. While living with her extended family, a caring mother and wife needs the strength to carry on while her husband works overseas to seek financial stability for the household. With all the bad news surrounding her, this dedicated family woman and nurse becomes paranoid of the men lurking around her house. Soon, this imposes fear to the rest of the family, which forces her husband to go back to her aid. It turns out that her harsh past during the Martial Law brings back her memories of activism and military espionage in ways beyond the sane mind can handle.
As the film progresses, her vivid imaginations of soldiers monitoring her house and her fixation of the Marcos regime worsen. In no time, her hallucinations become clear signs of schizophrenia.
As a woman losing her grasp of reality, the audience gets thoroughly immersed into her multiple perspectives, just like how her own family members experience the breakdown of her thought processes and emotional responses. The irony of how a nurse suddenly becomes the patient further encourages the audience to become more critical of the story’s multi-layered details.
The film’s slow-burning intensity carefully weaves such an unpredictable route — without having to rely on stereotypes brought about by its theme and subject matter. Its subtle genre elements suggest suspense, horror and dramatic details that thoroughly creep into the unsuspecting audience’s initial expectations. Before getting halfway through the story, it takes a gripping turn to confirm what is really going on. And with the right establishment of emotions, characters, and plot points, this domestic drama aptly reveals layers of social sentiments that are far more expansive than how it originally seemed.
The storytelling allows the viewers to effectively relate to the main character’s debilitating and much stigmatized condition. The tale remains compassionate in presenting how the disorder develops, how the family adjusts to the situation, and how the worsening illness affects relationships. Things tend to get a little uneven at times, but the stronger facets of the film still pretty much dominate the narrative.
The consistent camerawork offers a variety of hindered disclosures that actually bring the viewers closer to the suspense and drama of the proceedings. With a good grasp of cinematic language, Yapan puts practical value to the many scenes that mostly happen inside a small house and a small neighborhood.
Agot Isidro becomes the film’s beating heart. She completely disappears into her character with all the fitting emotions potently working out every time. Propelling her role with the much-needed emotional and psychological burdens the story needs, her impeccable portrayal of a woman whose sanity continues to fall apart is utterly touching and striking in the right places. TJ Trinidad as her loving husband renders an impressively underplayed performance. His valiant effort to remain sane for the sake of his family looks convincing from start to end.