tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Balatkayo’ Has a Point, But Has Trouble Getting There

This OFW story gets distracted by the sights and loses the thread

NBHD movie 1-2 ticketsBalatkayo is about Edith (Aiko Melendez), who is an OFW in Singapore. Her husband Samson (Polo Ravales), meanwhile, works in Dubai. The movie starts out with Edith having to fly home because their son Jasper (James Robert) shows up in a sex video posted on the internet. While Edith deals with the situation back home, Samson is carrying on with an affair, and is secretly working on getting his marriage annulled. Soon enough, the couple is forced to reckon with the consequences of their choices.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.12.18 PMThe general point that the film seems to be to be making is that for all the benefits that being an OFW can bring, the price to the family might not be worth it. It’s certainly a worthy point to make, but the film lacks the narrative focus to make that theme work in a compelling fashion. It wanders aimlessly between its three main characters, giving them disconnected stories that offer the audience little to root for throughout the runtime.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.14.01 PMWhat’s most interesting about the film is that there’s a sense of satire written into the movie, its characters almost always directly commenting on the struggles of the OFW in a broad, somewhat comedic way. This is in contrast to the overall tone of the film, which is otherwise drab and listless. The film might be going for deadpan, but what it does instead is make its characters out to be just deeply unpleasant. Their unpleasantness is often compounded by the lack of forward action. An early sequence has Edith completely ignoring her friend while walking around Singapore. The scene seems designed to be funny, but it mostly makes Edith out to a terrible person prone to wasting everyone’s time.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.08.15 PMIt’s not a great start, and it just keeps going on this way. The film just seems unable to find a focus for its narrative, and is all too willing to linger in sequences that show off the fact that they got to shoot abroad. There is a long stretch in the middle that details a weekend getaway for Samson and his lover. It’s a montage of scenes of them enjoying various tourist attractions in the UAE. Nothing is gained from this sequence. The film has already previously made clear that the two are serious about each other, and want to be together. The whole thing just comes off as the production wanting to make it clear that they were really in the UAE.Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.14.50 PMIn all that, the film struggles to come up with anything that might be considering dramatic. The script seems to actively avoid confrontation. It spends a good long chunk in the middle dryly explaining the convoluted legal process of annulment, rather than just dealing with what the children feel about it. The acting is not great overall. Aiko Melendez comes off badly, the film not playing along with her harsh, comedic delivery. Polo Ravales doesn’t give much at all. And James Robert, given the pivotal role of Jasper, doesn’t really seem to know what he’s supposed to be doing in any given scene.1Balatkayo actually takes a compelling position. In moments, it’s able to convey a trenchant point: that the “practicality” of working abroad comes at a harsh cost, and that the “sacrifice” that OFWs are making might be more complicated than the simple narrative often presented. But these moments get buried under a lot of tedious nonsense. At times, it feels like the film would rather be a travelogue than a story. The characters and their individual narratives end up paying the price. It just becomes impossible to feel anything for any of them.


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 Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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