tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa’ Falls Apart, in Spite of Good Intentions

Right sentiment, dreadfully wrong execution

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Ang Guro Kong di Marunong Magbasa takes place in a small farming community deep in Muslim Mindanao. There is no school there, and the families are looking for a way to get their children educated. Aaquil (Alfred Vargas), an illiterate farmer, is recruited into the role of teacher for the children. He somehow manages to fake his way through the initial lessons, and later gets the help of some of the more advanced kids to continue teaching on. But Aaquil faces many perils beyond being found out, as local armed conflicts threaten to destroy everything that they’ve set up.

There is certainly no faulting this movie for not having good intentions. There is likely no one reading this that thinks that children should indeed be deprived education and recruited into separatist groups. No one thinks that it’s a good thing that there might be children out there in the jungles, training with weapons, being brought up into a life of violence. But the movie treats this idea as a completely novel concept, coming off as deeply patronizing as it broadly sketches out the plight of these poor characters.

To say that the film lacks subtlety would be a massive understatement. It is one of those films where every sentence is openly declarative, the dialogue coming nowhere near what people actually sound like. The movie seems completely unwilling to trust that the audience will follow this incredibly basic plot, every scene underlining its points over and over, stretching well past the point of any reasonable thought. The whole thing is a pain to watch, suffering from a marked lack of verisimilitude, which is a problem considering that the whole thing is meant to address some very real issues.

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The film starts to feel insane after a point, its excesses best embraced as unintentional humor than any sincere attempt to evoke drama from these miserablist depictions. This is an odd film that often takes on the tone of a broad children’s movie that’s also driven by an impulse to violence. In theory, this could be justified as a quirk on the subject matter, perhaps an attempt at subversion by bursting the bubble of idyllic provincial childhood living with the intrusion of horrific violence. In practice, it’s just really, really terrible. The film’s violence emerges as ridiculous schlock, and is difficult to reckon with seriously.

The production as a whole feels amateurish, the production values, cinematography, and editing falling well below the standards of our filmmaking, even for a low budget picture. In the lead role, Alfred Vargas overplays his illiterate character’s slowness. The character is meant to be a noble example, but the portrayal is so patronizing that it comes off as insulting. But no one in the cast comes off well in this movie, the entire approach just so broad and broken that all of them seemed to have been put into an immediate disadvantage.

Ang Guro Kong di Marunong Magbasa undoubtedly has its heart in the right place, its overall sentiments agreeable in the most general sense. But that just isn’t enough to recommend it as a feature film. One could simply point to the production values and dismiss the film as falling well below what a movie should look like, but that isn’t really enough. The film insults its audience with its broadness, and does little to make them reckon with the realities of the issues at hand. The broadness abstracts the issue instead, obscuring it with paper-thin characters and its penchant for over-the-top depictions of violence. The film gets things very wrong, even if its heart is technically located in the place where it ought to be.

ANG GURO KONG DI MARUNONG MAGBASA IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS.
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Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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