Bong (Jericho Rosales) drowns his sorrows in a gay friendly bar. He reluctantly does so even if he’s not a fan of the clientele. Or if he doesn’t like the ownership of this particular establishment in Cavite, Philippines. Basurero reveals why he’s in this bar, getting a payment from the bar’s owner after getting rid of some dead bodies for her.
Basurero makes good use of its short running time to build Bong’s world. Outside of his cycle of ‘taking out the trash’ and his coping mechanisms, he’s a fisherman. It shows a good handle of character dynamics, like the one he has with the Captain (Soliman Cruz) in his first job. They get along well, but a friendly work environment doesn’t pay the bills. The audience sees that despite of how much Bong cheers his captain on.
As Bong, Rosales basically looks the same as he did when I was following Filipino entertainment back in the 90s. Director Elieen Cabiling casts his perfectly as Bong. Rosales, with his brown skin and Filipino features, has played his share of working class men with exemplary behavior. But here, he incorporates a meanness to Bong, showing his versatility as an actor. He’s nice to his boss, but not so nice to a fish vendor (Marife Necessito) who owes him money.
The production value captures the spirit of the spaces that Bong inhabits, like the haze at the bars where he goes. It gives those spaces enough claustrophobia. It shows that claustrophobia in the boat where he works and the rusted iron walls that make up the shacks where he lives. Filipino cinema, at least the version that makes it to festivals, has a reputation of being gritty. But Basurero is a decent example of the trend of Filipino films that shows grit without having to exaggerate its textures.
Through Bong, Cabiling shows one sides of the human rights violations taking place in the Philippines. He is partly complicit in those violations, but she shows that he has his reasons why he took on his second job. She shows him caring for his wife (Althea Vega) and daughter who needs medications to survive. Some people might not be into the perspective that she chooses, but that doesn’t mean that Bong’s story isn’t valid.
Besides, Basurero, as trite as this sounds, is more complex than a typical message film. Some of the production’s visuals show Cavite and Metro Manila in all of its facets. Outside of the bars and the bay and the shacks are infrastructure and actual wealth that Bong doesn’t have access to. That’s true even if he’s helping out the people who benefit from deaths of innocent people.
The Philippine War on Drugs is a genocide. The highest estimates for its death toll, according the the intertitles here, are 27000. In context, that is more people that the combination of death tolls some genocides that took place in Oceania, the Caribbean, and South America. I hope short films like this remind people of the atrocities taking place worldwide.
Basurero is currently playing at the Asian American International Film Festival and at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
- Release Date: 10/1/2020