Paki
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating 0 Votes

About two-thirds into Giancarlo Abrahan’s sophomore feature Paki, almost the whole of its ensemble start to gather around a table for a meal.

This is the first time the family’s matriarch Alejandra (acted to a tee by Dexter Doria) will face once again her then not yet present and newly estranged husband Uro (Noel Trinidad). Her adult children — most vocal the middle child Ella (Eula Valdes) — express their disdain for their mother’s (for them) unwarranted and abrupt separation. “You’ve been happy for 50 years!” “Dad has always been like that,” “We can’t allow you to do this because if we do we’ll be picking sides,” they take turns throwing in condescending jabs.

Alejandra’s only ally in the squabble is her grandson Raymond (Miguel Valdes). All while this is happening, Ella’s husband Delfin (Ricky Davao) looks longingly into the hot pot at the middle of the table, awkwardly waiting for the right moment amidst the tension to dig in.

This scene for me encapsulates the kind of poignancy and comedy Paki possesses. It shines in portraying grounded yet sharp dialogue that feels way too real and not manufactured for the movies. Words are utilized with aplomb — laden with wit, insight, and often melancholy. This gives the film a sad loveliness that pushes viewers into retrospect, making us reconsider our family relationships and the contempt we often treat our parents and grandparents with.

Paki opens with an excerpt from the celebrated Filipino poet Edith Tiempo’s Bonsai:

All that I love?

Why, yes, but for the moment-

And for all time, both.

Tiempo’s words echo how love is both temporal and eternal, capable of both lasting and fleeting. What better words to describe the complexity of the love families frequently share. In a way, the love between family is seen as a prerequisite imposed upon birth and not something that is earned. As such, we tend to neglect these relationships, view it as a constant that is neither deep nor shallow but just present. Eternal in its plateaued consistency, fleeting in how we tend to choose when or how we express it.

These themes are carried over in Paki as Alejandra goes on to an odyssey visiting her children in Manila, asking for their blessing in her newly-decided liberation. Though to her disappointment, her valid resentments are received as mere ramblings of a curmudgeonly old woman. She bears exasperation, as even in her old age, it is the feelings of her family that she has to prioritize instead of her own. The love they share, constant but just not available when she needs it the most.

This rationed sharing of love draws a better comparison to Tiempo’s Bonsai in its entirety, as the poem is about how the vastness of love can be condensed into handfuls to be doled out. But as the poem sees this action as endearing and how small mementos between family can carry inversely proportional significance, Paki, on the contrary, focuses on the scale — how restricted the love a mother can get from her children feel and the guilt that comes with her questioning if asking for more makes her selfish.

Through Paki’s ensemble, the questions these themes pose are supported via heartfelt performances. Dexter Doria astounds the most in portraying a hard to love in her old age — abrasive and hardheaded — Alejandra. An understandable headache for her family but also a sorrowful creature in the way Doria evokes the repressed heartache after decades of infidelity her character finally acts against.

As with any ensemble piece though, the challenge of balancing a huge cast is how to give every character a purpose, a chance to shine. Unfortunately, Paki is not immune to this trapping. Some characters feel more like plot devices rather fully-formed human beings. The film is aware of this lack of characterization, and by the time the film’s third act kicks in, just when we the audience begin to feel that the run time’s about to end, Paki introduces dialogues that are supposed to remedy via exposition. Subplots regarding character histories come out of nowhere, stories shared by the beach feel forced.

And while we’re discussing third act woes, in terms of a conclusion, Paki seems to be unsure how exactly to end its story. The film’s last two scenes feel unnecessary, simply providing omnibus shots of the whole cast together in one scene. The second to the final scene, ok, I could give the benefit of the doubt to as it adds another albeit thin layer of characterization to one of its characters (unneeded but still at least there’s a purpose). The last scene though feels like a bit that could be entirely removed or, if insisted, be used as maybe a mid-credits scene.

Paki is consistent in its asking the audience how much love are we willing to give our parents and grandparents even if they make it really hard. It’s consistent in imbuing this question into its elements so that they all emanate poignancy and heart. The only way it strays from this in how Paki, in itself, isn’t that hard to love.

Note: Review originally published at ScreenAnarchy.com