by Bei Zamora and Arianne Christian Tapao
Edgar does not believe in Yeshua or in any god.
But all for a new beginning in Baguio, Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz) reluctantly took on the life of religiosity, entered a sketchy business, and has since been leading a quiet life with a well-off family and a stable livelihood.
After all, the Bontoc native left his parents, brothers and occupation as a miner for a new one with his devout wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano).
So when his family becomes trapped in a pyramid scam that risks his wife and daughter’s lives, there is no one for Edgar to turn to—not even a supreme being—but himself. It is up to the family patriarch to act at whatever cost, lest he pay the ultimate price.
In a courageously emancipating thriller drama that enmeshes its characters and audiences alike in the conundrums of survival, the film raises bigger challenges before the silver screen, and the greatest of them this: Who, exactly, must we honor in “Honor Thy Father”?
Such a question confronted the masters behind the film, including lead actress Soriano herself, after the movie’s special screening organized by UP Cinema on Feb. 5 at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Cine Adarna, its answer ultimately falling on the approximately 1,300 members of the audience themselves.
“Well, I guess this is a question we point to you guys—who would you honor in this situation?” said assistant director and creative assistant Shiel Calde in the forum after the film screening.
With the Church being its central ideological state apparatus, “Honor Thy Father” is an Erik Matti classic. The film’s overall aesthetic is reminiscent of the director’s style in “On the Job” (2013), which revolved around police politics and the Philippine justice system.
Understandably, the film’s controversies went beyond the confines of cinematic borders, especially when it was questioned for its alleged mockery of certain beliefs.
The film was released on Dec. 25, only months after news of allegations of corruption within the Iglesia ni Cristo was subsiding.
The crew, however, remained adamant that it was not targeted towards a specific sect and that
Yeshua, the deity and “father” of the film’s unnamed religion, was used to represent the god of all denominations in the Philippines.
But “Honor Thy Father” was pulled into even more contentions after it was disqualified for the Best Picture category in the recently concluded Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) due to the non-disclosure of its international screenings and participation in the CinemaOne Originals festival, a matter which co-producers Dondon Monteverde and lead actor Cruz did not let go of easily.
In an open letter to the MMFF Executive Committee, the team said the film was not an entry to their festival when they accepted invitations for international screenings.
“[MMFF] did not bring up Honor Thy Father’s international screenings in the letter of disqualification you sent to us one day before the awarding ceremony,” the letter added.
But the MMFF committee clarified in an updated letter to the media that they disqualified the film due to non-disclosure itself.
“This was only officially revealed to the MMFF through their letter dated November 5, 2015, received on November 6, 2015, only two days before the showing, not giving the MMFF enough time to deliberate on the matter.”
The sanction, which the MMFF committee noted as ‘lightest’, was imposed “to emphasize and send a clear message to all participating producers on the need of compliance to the MMFF rules.”
The case is currently in House probe after one of the cast, actor and Laguna Rep. Dan Fernandez filed a resolution to investigate the issue.
But films like “Honor Thy Father” do not only face these kinds of dilemma.
Despite having a popular actor like Cruz as the main protagonist, the movie’s sales was nothing compared to blockbuster films that dominated the festival.
“Eh second day pa lang ata binabawasan na kami ng cinemas because we were second to the last [in sales] (We were losing cinemas by the second day because we were second to last in sales),” line producer Tess Fuentes said.
Amid these problems, however, what is important for the crew, who sat all-smiles before the audience, is to give a unique offering to the once-brilliant film festival.
Soriano said she herself had a violent reaction when the film participated in MMFF but was quick to add that “Honor Thy Father” joined as an attempt to restore what the festival used to be: an avenue for “amazing, beautifully crafted films,” in contrast to the present, where creating films has become business rather than a showcase of artistic quality.
“Sinabi ko nga kay [Matti]… ‘Salamat sa rebolusyon’ (I told Matti, ‘Thank you for the revolution’),” Soriano said. “Because, you know, we’re bringing back the real meaning of MMFF.”
To this day, the struggles of the film in attempting to revolutionize Philippine cinema stands as a testament to serving its audiences by feeding their intellect, not diminishing it.
However, the cast, crew and audiences of “Honor Thy Father” will all have something in common with the protagonist himself: Yeshua will most likely not provide. It’s up to the people to make things go their way.