I have been meaning to see director Theodore Boborol’s ISKA since last week but during the times I was able to go on a Cinemalaya marathon, it was always scheduled for the last screening, rendering me unable to see it until last night. Perhaps, it was fated that the first film I wanted to watch would be the last full length feature I would see in this year’s film festival. Still, the familiar story of ISKA is one that will resonate with audiences long after Cinemalaya is over.
Synopsis: Iska (Ruby Ruiz), an employee at one of UP Diliman’s photocopying centers, tries to make ends meet by taking on extra cleaning jobs in the weekend and walking several kilometers a day to save on money. She does this in order to provide for her autistic grandson, who was abandoned in her care by her daughter. As if this was not enough, her good for nothing husband adds to her heartaches and makes life even more unbearable and yet, this strong woman does her best to endure and overcome for the sake of her beloved grandson.
For all intents and purposes, I believe ISKA was intended to shine the spotlight on autism and the challenges of caring for a special needs child, especially when one is not equipped with the tools to do so — financially and technically. The opening sequence of ISKA was enough to establish what Iska had to go through on a daily basis. The simple task of cleaning and changing the clothes of someone like Dongdong takes its toll on any person and Iska’s extraordinary amount of love and patience for the child was the only reason that she goes through the motions without feeling bitter and tired. Her genuine love for her grandson will remind audiences of their own lola for sure.
Apart from the autistic grandson arc of Iska’s story, her tale does not seem original. Yet, this is not a bad thing. It seems familiar because audiences are already aware that her experiences are a reflection of what actually happens in the slums. Iska is the face of women who have to work to provide for their families, women who are raped by their own husbands, women who have partners who do not pull their weight in the relationship, women who have accepted their lot in life, women who would endure everything for the sake of their families.
Veteran actress Ruby Ruiz, shines in her titular role by providing a top notch performance. She completely steps into her character’s shoes and embodies the strength that it took for a woman such as Iska to survive. In much the same vein, Pryle Gura envelops himself in the role of Dongdong and wins audiences hearts with his exemplary performance. This is definitely an accomplishment for someone of his young age.
I was impressed by how well the supporting characters turned out strong performances to further highlight Iska’s plight. From her good for nothing husband Joven (Soliman Cruz), her neighbors and social workers. They each contributed to make Iska’s journey come to life. Teamwork, does indeed, make the dream work.
ISKA manages to evoke a myriad of emotions among moviegoers — sympathy for the plight of this poor grandmother who carries the world on her shoulders, worry over the security of her job amid a dying trade, outrage over the dysfunctional system that destroys rather than alleviates, disbelief over the callous public service stunts that failed to investigate before it judged, and disbelief over the extent that people were willing to betray in order to get their five seconds of fame.
The screenplay, penned by Marie Rose Colindres, was written in a voice that connected with the audiences, whether it be the dramatic or the humorous. I just wished they edited out that scene with Iska telling her friend about her childhood and what she suffered through. The audience has already witnessed all of her sorrows, the backstory was too much of a hard sell.
Director Theodore Boborol and Firestarters Production really made an impact with ISKA. It involves audiences in an an emotional journey and makes them feel like helpless bystanders as a series of injustice is paraded in front of their eyes. The film was a challenge to the audience, indeed.