Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Venice Film Festival. For more information visit http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/ and follow La Biennale on Twitter at @la_Biennale.
Set in the streets of Manila, Blanka tells the story of a young street kid searching for a home. Abandoned by a drunk mother and deadbeat father, Blanka (Cydel Gabutero) strolls the streets bumming spare change and, when opportunity strikes, thieving from inattentive tourists. She has courage and determination beyond her age, borne of her difficult circumstances. But, regardless of the hard outer layer she has developed, she is still merely a little girl, one who needs attention, love, and caring. In a heartwarming tale of friendship, Blanka finds her home—the love and attention of an elder—in the spirit of a blind musician who shares the streets and shares his heart with the young girl.
Watching other children play, it becomes clear that Blanka desires a ‘normal’ life wherein she is cared for by a mother. After watching a news report about a woman adopting children, she gets the idea that she can adopt a mother. In the same way that adults pay for children, she wishes to pay for a mother. This here raises a number of questions regarding the values of street kids. Like Blanka, their lives are ruled by the need to get money; it is all they know. Get money and buy things with it to make their lives more comfortable. Need food: get money. Need shelter: get money. Get a mother? That’s right, get money. It is a terrible cycle they are stuck in, which ultimately leads many into criminal activity.
The film’s tight focus and character exposition is full of depth, in spite of the relatively one natured film.
After meeting Peter, she begins to beg for money with him. As a team, they are able to get much more than otherwise. Who wouldn’t help out a young girl and her blind father? After he teaches her how to sing, she lands them a job in a club where they will be paid 1300 pesos (she requires 30, 000 pesos to buy a mother, an amount typical of adoption). All the while, she continues to steal when she can, and finds herself being manipulated by those around her.
A young street kid with no mother is easy to take advantage of. She is duped at the club into losing her job for theft committed by another. The other street kids wish to take advantage of her, by destroying her home, the two street kid friends she makes turn their backs on her, and a woman pretending to find her a mother instead wishes to sell her into stripping and prostitution. Meanwhile, a transgender hooker keeps an eye out for her, as the streets are her home too. The only person with a generous spirit is Peter, who wishes to send her to an orphanage to keep her safe and cared for. He doesn’t realize that he himself is the home she’s been looking for.
The film is shot with a mostly static camera which follows Blanka’s actions. The other characters are rather incidental and join the story only by way of their involvement with Blanka. This is typical of independent filmmaking with short run-times and simple scripts. It is in no way an indictment of the film’s quality, however. The film’s tight focus and character exposition is full of depth, in spite of the relatively one natured film.
A beautifully poignant shot occurs when Peter lets go of Blanka’s hand, and the camera lingers in close up on his fingers—a highly Bressonian technique.
A wonderful soundtrack complements the film. Peter is often playing the acoustic guitar through an electric amplifier, and when he is not, acoustic guitar can be heard in the background of many scenes. The slowly plucked strings feed into the serene atmosphere of the film which lays in stark contrast to some of the dramatic events which occur within it. Towards the ending, when a frustrated Blanka asks Peter to take her to the orphanage, a montage of music, serene nature, flowers, and guitar is put on screen to circumscribe their friendship. A beautifully poignant shot occurs when Peter lets go of Blanka’s hand, and the camera lingers in close up on his fingers—a highly Bressonian technique.
There are times, however, when the film seems rather contrived. Certain conveniences, such as characters running into each other or events working out in a positive manner, are designed almost theatrically, wherein all the elements have their parts to serve the overarching story of Blanka. This works in the theater, but not for a film set in the streets of Manila. Instead of realism, the tone is rather dramatic—scripted towards premeditated ends. For this reason, the film doesn’t have much a sense of spontaneity or authenticity beyond its targeted goal to tell a story of a street kid searching for love. Irrespective of this, Blanka is a well shot, acted, and nuanced film which deeply expresses both feelings of isolation and feelings of togetherness. It is endearing and honest, and will leave viewers with open hearts.
Blanka is a well shot, acted, and nuanced film which deeply expresses both feelings of isolation and feelings of togetherness. Though simplistic, it is endearing and honest, and will leave viewers with open hearts.