Deeply personal stories seldom leave you unmoved – not only because it rings truth, but also because the storyteller risked a piece of their humanity for you. Perhaps that’s why Liway was one of the most sought after films in Cinemalaya 2018. With every screening of it sold out, and winning the Audience Choice Award for the full length category, it’s accurate to say this film resonated powerfully with its intended audience. Liway is, after all, based on the true story of Director Kip Oebanda’s childhood.
The film is set in the mid-1980’s, in Camp Delgado, in the waning years of Martial Law. It reveals the story of Day (Glaiza de Castro) as she fights to give her son Dakip (Kenken Nuyad) – who was born inside the prison camp – a normal childhood, with his husband Ric (Dominic Roco). Imprisoned by the Marcos government for rebellion, Day and Ric are forced into the dilemma of keeping Dakip inside the camp with them or give him away to have a better life outside.
In an effort to make Dakip’s life inside less constrained, Day tells her son stories about the bravery of a diwata (enchantress) named Liway who fought the monsters in the mountains outside the camp. Only to find out later, that Liway was in fact Day’s alias, Kumander Liway, in her days as a rebel commander, fighting off the government military forces in the mountains.
I would wager that this was one of, if not the best performance of Glaiza de Castro. She is no neophyte in the Cinemalaya films (this being her 5th) and she is a household name in Filipino television, but this role was one that accentuated her gifts.
While her rendition of Himig ng Pagibig, and Pagbabalik was awfully heart-wrenching through her ethereal voice, for me it was her eyes that helped cement an award worthy performance. She is one of those few actresses whose eyes speak volumes even without lines. To see the depth and struggle of an emotionally complex character with just a close up of her face is a skill and talent only few possess.
The poignant way the film was written without sacrificing comic relief is one of its strongest points. Through the lens of a loving and fearless mother, and a naughty yet adorable son, it excellently tempers an ascending surge of emotions until finally, in the end, your tears are inevitably freed.
Appropriately, in a time so ridden with falsehood and fake news, the film successfully convinces the audience that the rebels (often demonized by the government) are humans and have noble causes worthy of our appreciation. At the end of the film, this infamous group of people has the audience’s compassion and sympathy. How the film did that was by simply telling the truth. A straightforward yet effective way of persuasion from no less than a champion debater such as Kip Oebanda.
The truth wrung clearly and loudly, when real pictures and historical facts of the real Liway and the young Dakip were shown in the after credits of the film. This was, in almost all screenings of the film, where spontaneous shouts of joy and anti Martial Law chants erupted in the cinema.
I was personally there to witness almost seven minutes of standing ovation during the gala of the film. Ironically, it was as if the people had reclaimed their honor and freedom by shrouding the halls of CCP, a famous infrastructure built by the Marcoses, with shouts of joy and powerful chorus. It was an experience I will never forget as a film enthusiast.
I will hide no pretensions: I am a staunch advocate against Martial Law and the rising back to power of the Marcoses. But I’d bet even their allies will feel a pang of emotion for this film.
And perhaps, the most cathartic bit of the whole film was, in the after credits, when the screen wrote and announced that a part of the money from the reparations of the victims of Martial Law, taken from the Swiss bank accounts of the Marcoses, was used to produce the film. My gosh, that just brought down the house.
Liway is in many respects a love story and a source of hope for many who fail to see the point of carrying on. It is also a story about fighting for the truth. In the words of Kip Oebanda, “Minsan hindi lang dapat lumaban na walang takot. Minsan kailangan lumaban kahit natatakot.” (Sometimes it’s not enough to fight without fear. But to fight even when we are afraid.)
I think it’s worth to say that there are only two films where I cried uncontrollably. One was Schindler’s List, the other was Liway. For the message of hope. For the love of my mom. And for the love of my country. That’s something not many films can ever invoke.
Review by Rarry Abatol