Melodrama champ Gil Portes's Saranggola (The Kite) is a good story by Butch Dalisay, about the police code of ethics to protect themselves. But as critic Noel Vera points out, more subtlety could have give the film more wind.


Gil Portes’s Saranggola (The Kite) is a simple enough story: drunken policeman shoots down a boy on a rooftop, flying a kite; the only witness is the policeman’s own son.

The script, by Butch Dalisay, is nicely structured and develops the story with a minimum of fuss, though I do have reservations - like the character of the investigating officer (Mark Gil), with his little speech about justice. No one really believes in "justice" in this country, least of all the people who serve it; they know the system too well.

They do have a code of ethics among themselves, one of which (and possibly the highest) is to defend your own. Gil’s character would be more realistic - would, in fact, be more vividly dramatic - if he was forced to investigate his fellow officer (Ricky Davao) because political pressures compel him onwards, and because the facts inexorably lead to Davao.

The film’s main weaknesses are in its texture, not its structure. The crucial scene where Davao shoots the boy is clumsily staged and edited; the music, overemphatic. The scene where Davao tries to confess to a priest - potentially a powerful moment - feels truncated. Portes struggles with the material and, presumably, against enormous budget and time constraints; he probably couldn’t win all the battles, all the time.

Ricky Davao, I’ve always believed, is a terrific actor; he doesn’t disappoint here, though there are moments when he overacts as much as the film does. The actor playing the young boy, Lester Llansang, is blessedly uncute; he reacts to his father’s crime with an intense, angry stare, which is a nice touch - his world is being threatened, and he’s helpless to stop it.

In the crucial moment when he confesses, however, Llansang seems strangely inadequate. Unfortunately, Portes doesn’t cover for him; he shoots him straight on, and it lessens the scene (to be fair, I can’t think of anyone else who could play the scene - a difficult one - as written).

Despite the clumsiness, despite the crudity, it’s hard to dislike a film whose heart is so simply and honestly on its sleeve (the key word is "honestly"). And there is one point - about the time when Davao is caught - when Portes achieves the perfect mix of emphasis and understatement, and the picture finally takes flight; only for a few minutes, and almost near the end, the picture is as exhilarating as a kite in flight. Which, when you come to think of it, is something many films (including a few French ones) never manage to do.

Note: Businessworld, June 25, 1999. The above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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November 27, 2007

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