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Crocodile- Grand Prize winner Tokyo FILMeX

Friday 5 December 2014, by Judy Harris

Set in the Agusan marshlands of the Phillipines Crocodile is an attentive depiction of the daily life of a family who suffer the death of their young daughter Rowena (Jolina Espana) after she is attacked by a crocodile. The film is based on the death of a 12 year old girl from the Manobo tribe who was killed by a crocodile in 2009.

With minimal dialogue the film presents the pace, warmth and cohesion of the domestic world of Rowena’s family, their rituals and daily tasks - cooking, folding, fishing, pinning; yet despite this intimacy their life and the film itself is entirely fluid and without borders (in contrast to the immutable economic barriers the family push up against). The family’s one roomed house opens onto the marshes and characters often gaze across the water; the camera floats along the wetlands, rides on paddle boats and flies above the landscape. Surrounded by water and selling fish to support their family, Rowena’s parents Divina (Angeli Bayani) and Rex (Karl Medina) live under severe economic pressures, not just with regard to their daily survival but, increasingly, the demands of Rowena’s future and the consequences of her education. Divina can barely afford to imagine the future her daughter’s education could bring when Rowena, frustrated by her parent’s inability to reassure her that they can pay for her graduation, is attacked and killed. The cost of her graduation comes to be replaced by the cost of her burial.

The slow pace and unassuming daily tasks of family life are immediately eviscerated from memory in contrast with the crocodile attack which occurs so fast it is barely visible. The speed of the attack, the instantaneous disappearance of Rowena from the boat lends even more credulity to the inability of her parents to accept what has hapened. The camera follows Rex in silence as he searches for the crocodile, or Rowena, or the ability to comprehend the death of his daughter. Later, the extended encounter between Divina and the crocodile bears the weight not only of vengence and danger and the irreducible void between human and wild animal, but the interority of both. The gaze which passes between them is not soon forgotten.

Crocodile is uneven in pace, though at times this works to mirror the ways in which trauma destabilizes habits of perception. Divina’s response to the death of her daughter is a mélange of rage, despondency and disbelief but Bayani’s face is at its most powerful when she is awakened by children who laugh at the pieces of tin can stuck to her sleeping face. She momentarily laughs with them, before falling back into the exhaustion of despair.

There is little dry land in Crocodile and the film itself lacks a solid foundation, which is particularly unsettling for a film which includes harrowing documentary footage of Rowena’s corpse and interviews with her parents. However, Bayani, Medina and Espana deliver brilliant performances and Pasion lingers on movements and moments which give the film an aesthetic depth (the shot of tiny flies hovering in the darkness around the base of a burning candle is exquisite) and the pressures of poverty, loss and life on the margins of the marshlands are palpable.

Bwaya (Crocodile)
Dir. Francis Xavier Pasion, 2014

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