Director: Victor Villanueva, Philippines 2016
Philippines, 2016 / Rated 14A / 90:00 / Tagalog, Bisaya with English subtitles /
Canadian Premiere at Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival
Jesus is dead is a film about a family’s journey to bury an ex-husband and father. Iyay (Jaclyn Jose) assembles her children: Jude (Chai Fonacier), Jay (Melde Montanez), and Bert (Vincent Viado) for a trip to their previous home in Dumaguete to attend the funeral of Jesus. The family encounters many misadventures on their way there from Cebu while stuffed in their extra mini-minivan together. The children have been abandoned by their father for so long and do not understand the significance of attending the funeral. However, as much as their mother hates their father, she feels that it is important for them to attend this event and fights them over clearing their busy schedules to make the trip. The trip is also complicated by the fact that they must pick up their aunt (father’s sister) from a nunnery to the funeral.
Everyone is struggling with something and hints of it are given in the beginning of the film. Iyay is not doing well at earning a living at her food stand. Jay is pressured about getting a job and passing his board exam, but spends time talking to himself in the bathroom. Jude is a transman, in debt from trying to keep his girlfriend and girlfriend’s child happy. Bert has Down’s Syndrome, and is the most mature and calm among the children. Iyay laments about how she had thought that Bert would be a burden on her, but in the end he was the strongest of her three children.
The film is a bit surreal, as during the road trip, all their problems come into play at the same time. Iyay gets a call about the political problem of her food stand location, Jay makes shocking confessions to Jude and it just happens that Jude bumps into his girlfriend who causes more issues. Meanwhile, Bert can’t deal with all this drama and takes a side trip on his own. The aunt they pick up is a nun who decides to stop being one. The comedic bits in the film are subtle in some cases (nuns running away from their aunt) and over-dramatic in others (Jude buying a mega mega mega tv), but they are laugh-out-loud moments. Admittedly some off-beat humour is adults only, involving human body parts and fluids.
The most refreshing part of the film was the character of Bert, played by Vincent Viado who does have Down’s. In the beginning, a group of kids talk about his dancing skills and it isn’t certain if they were making fun of him or if they were serious. It is a joy to watch and discover that Bert is indeed a formidable dancer. All the actors in the film were dynamic and natural in their role. Their chemistry as a family radiated off the screen and Jaclyn Jose skillfully portrayed the warmth of the mother towards her children.
The scene of the wake was surprisingly uplifting compared to North American wakes, with mahjong, food and a rambunctious crowd. The funeral was a more sombre affair, but it was highlighted by another disaster which befalls the family, leading them to cry (not about Jesus). Iyay’s children were quite forgiving to the family members that their father left behind, namely his new wife and two children. A scene between Jay and his young stepbrother was tender and touching, especially in the light of the anger the older children felt about their father abandoning them.
The story of people traveling to a funeral is universally recognizable, and people who have been in similar situations will find much humour in this movie. The most over-the-top scenes involve the aunt who is the nun and one wonders if this is a commentary on religion as she frees herself from its grip and shows that even holy water is no longer sacred to her. The film will have people debating over the many quirky scenes and their meanings, and although full of crass humour, the film is a memorable and down-to-earth take on family.
Written by JF Garrard
JF Garrard is the President of Dark Helix Press, an Indie publisher of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Raw Non-Fiction. Her background is in Nuclear Medicine and she has a MBA in Marketing and Strategy. She is an editor and writer of speculative fiction (The Undead Sorceress, Trump Utopia or Dystopia Anthology, Ricepaper Issue 19.3), non-fiction (The Literary Elephant), as well as children’s books.