Life’s vast skies and ports of call

Pink Halo-Halo
Joselito Altarejos
Cinemalaya and Beyond the Box Inc., in cooperation with Voyage Studios
Grief is impending doom in Pink Halo-Halo, written and directed by Joselito Altarejos. Imminent loss is the quiet tension that binds the clear skies of the film’s locale and its mostly, austere central characters. At the heart of this moving narrative is a young boy at the cusp of life, a moment when its tempo is decided by events that fate brings. Nearing adolescence, we regretfully see him leave behind the joyful frolic of childhood to face life’s looming despair, the greatest burden would be the death of his father, Lino Bolante a corporal suddenly recalled to Basilan. Filmed in a Masbate town on a good harvest season Pink Halo-Halo embraces its locale fully, eloquently capturing on screen the rhythm of town life and its inhabitants. The film avoids the nostalgia and skewed romance of place that so entraps many local films, whether these places are impoverished towns or blighted cities. Humor and grief, polar opposites so difficult to bind are handled with quiet compassion. The sutbleties so despairingly missing in the postcard stills and stilted narratives of most other movies are refreshing finds in Pink Halo-Halo. 

It opens to a game of pretend war among young boys brandishing their wooden toy guns. Their play is disrupted by the arrival of a dead soldier’s body from Mindanao. They walk home and lingered at the wake, seeing grief still unknowable to hearts unblemished by loss. Natoy and a friend stop to eat halo-halo at a local cafeteria. We see the refreshment served, and against the stark, summer sun its colors transform from enticing to ghastly. On shaved ice, the red syrup eerily looks like blood on snow while the yam’s violet black hue appears like the land for which blood is spilled. While the boys enjoy the refreshment, the cafeteria owner lovingly lingers on photos of a dead soldier in a coffin. We then surmise that army enlistment is both salvation and plague in this town, and in mute horror realize that perhaps these boys will also choose to risk their lives in far-off places of war when they become men.
The meager salary from the army helps build Natoy’s home and fence their lot, support aging grandparents and a younger brother studying to be a teacher but who looks forward to being an army colonel. The boy regards these with a mind unclouded by complexity. He does not dream to be a soldier, he is amused and even beguiled by the vanity of women and his mother’s pregnancy is a prospect both alien and inviting. He makes doll paper cut-outs while his parents debate over his father’s wanting to stay in the army far longer than planned.
Gloom creeps into the house’s dark and cool interiors on the day his father is to leave. The camera moves to the boy scanning his school books on the polished wooden floor while adult life hovers above him, his mother Sonia busily ironing shirts, his uncle polishing to gleam his father’s army boots.We overhear the parents planning for the coming of another child and settling payments to be made on the motorbike and the fence, matters far from the mind of a child now playing with his father’s army dog tags. They saw him off to sea and like most scenes of parting, the vast waters however blue and serene presage loss. It struck me how inured we have become to these many partings, often with little hope of reunion and return. Risk, it seems is the only constant in these leave-takings.

Pink Halo-Halo evokes grief as it encroaches on the mundane, as inescapable as night turning into day. Over halo-halo, son and mother hears of an encounter in Basilan. A war so removed from their lives, news delivered through the grainy screen of a television set lending an unreal cast to mourning. Tragedy is often received with disbelief. The void between knowing and proof , between the image of a bloodied father and the arrival of his cold body is met with quiet, severe sorrow. This community knows bereavement and confronts its onslaught with courage. Prayers are said amidst the drone of the evening news, tears are silently shed and they face the inevitable arrival of the box from Basilan draped with the national flag. Their loss is ours as well. Yet the film avoids the histrionics that beset the depiction of grief and despair, reminding us that like heat and rain, misery and joy make life in equal measure. This fact is presented beyond artifice, and a contained, measured tranquility prevails throughout the film. No doubt, the film owes this to its eloquent handling of time and its thorough knowledge of place. Little is forced and when we witness these (such as the news of impending death and the image of the wounded father/soldier calling out to son across television), we know these constructions are deliberately chosen metaphors. 

Indeed, the dead do not wholly depart and the living exists with them. Berger writes that the dead  surrounds those who live. The living he says “are the core of the dead” and that only “timelessness surrounds this core”. We endure not merely sorrow, we live with reminders that death brings- the fragility of life and the tenacity of the human heart, of the choices we can make and the battles we opt to win. Pink Halo-Halo ends with the family tensely awaiting the boat that brings to shore a loved one’s corpse. We share their silence as the camera pans to the skies and clouds gather to cast shadows on an ordinarily bright summer day. 

Cited work
Berger, John. 2007. Hold everything dear: Dispatches on survival and resistance. New York: Vintage, 3.

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