Years ago, the mother of our family driver passed away at the ripe old age of ninety.
His mother died on the other side of the Pacific, on the alien shores of California. Unfortunately for him, he had no means of bringing her body home.
Our driver, being a man of simple stature, had neither the resources nor the know-how to give his mother a proper burial here in the Philippines. The amount required to bring her home would eventually total over hundreds of thousands of pesos, and it was only a matter of time before our driver approached my father for help.
But my father was against bringing his mother home. For my father, it was a waste of money our driver didn’t have. It was money that was better spent elsewhere, like our driver’s four children, and his growing number of grandchildren.
Our driver, however, was adamant.
When my father eventually asked why it was so important for him to bring home his mother’s body, he simply answered, “Kailangan ko lang siya makita.”
There is an unquestionable impracticality to my driver’s grieving, one that he neither questioned nor recognized. But it is exactly this kind of grieving that Loy Arcenas’ latest film concerns itself with.
Requieme! is a dark comedy that pokes fun at the Filipino’s need for closure. How, in some sordid and misplaced sense of duty, we tend to lionize the dead and take our living for granted.
It is a comedy of errors, with a number of punchlines on the deceased.
But as the story slowly unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear that Requieme! has a lot to say, not only about how we bury our dead, but why we even bother to in the first place.
Requieme! follows the stories of Swanie (Shamaine Buencamino) and Joanna (Anthony Falcon); two seemingly distinct individuals with strikingly similar goals: both want to bring home the bodies of their grateful dead.
Swanie is a distinguished barangay captain with escalating political ambitions. When it’s discovered that the ominous death of a distant relative could be a great way of stealing the political limelight, Swanie takes the opportunity to host the burial herself.
Unfortunately, with the body abroad and no family to collect it, Swanie realizes that her ticket to political fame is one with a higher price than had she bargained for.
Joanna, on the other hand, is a transgender who wants nothing more than breasts big enough to suffocate her boyfriend. But when an old cobbler from her neighborhood passes away, she takes it upon herself to make sure that he gets a decent burial. Unfortunately, every peso she spends, is another peso away from her mammarian dream.
As Joanna’s frustration mounts, and her bank account dwindles, Joanna snaps at a seemingly resistant funeral home employee.
Joanna demands to know what the problem is, and barks, “Bangkay na yan diba?”
But therein lies the irony of Joanna’s remark. It seems that people are just as problematic in death, as they are in life.
Despite that, Requieme! finds much to laugh about in the company of death. And though the film is very much about the process of grieving, it is also about the process (or impossibility) of reconnection.
As Swanie struggles to find a way to bring her deceased nephew home, she digs up her family’s long and confusing genealogy. And what begins as a play for political position; ends in a realization that – even in death – family is all you have in this life.
Unfortunately, the film suffers from a setup far too long for its own good. Exposition is unloaded by the truck load, and though Arcenas tries desperately to keep the exposition light and engaging, earlier scenes are weighed down by the film’s sheer amount of information.
But as soon as the film picks up, Arcenas manages to fashion a world surrounded by death and filled with laughter.
At first, I had mistaken Requieme! to be a satire on Filipino grief and the impracticality of closure.
But by the end of the film, I had realized that I had gotten it wrong. There was nothing impractical about grief, and no cost too high for closure.
Our family driver eventually brought the body of his mother home. And since then, I have always wondered if the trouble had ever been worth the cost.
But it wasn’t until Requieme! that I was given a funny, moving and irrefutable answer.
And, of course, the answer was yes.
PARA SA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Death is hardly ever a laughing matter, but Requieme! manages to make light of tragedy with a good, healthy dose of Filipino comedy – one that is as heartfelt as it is funny.