By Stefano Ortiz
The quarantine continues and so does Binging During Quarantine! In this series we will be revisiting Philippine movies available for streaming online, adding them to our quarantine binge list.
For the first edition, we did Mikhail Red’s Birdshot. This week, we chose Chito Roño’s Signal Rock, a film that premiered in 2018’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino where it won various awards on its way to being selected as the Philippine entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Signal Rock is currently available for streaming on iWant and iTunes.
Signal Rock (2018)
Directed by Chito Roño
Available on iWant and iTunes
Signal Rock opens with its protagonist Intoy (Christian Bables) walking up the film’s namesake: a large, coastal rock structure which serves as the only spot in the town’s rural island setting where the townspeople can get phone reception. He awaits a call from his older sister Vicky who currently lives and works in Finland and who the family relies on for financial assistance. She tells Intoy to expect money and talks briefly about some domestic problems regarding her daughter and her partner before curtly ending the phone call. Right away, Signal Rock introduces the themes that will drive the film’s narrative.
Following Intoy, Signal Rock zooms through the different sites of its distinct island town setting. Intoy, we discover, carries the role of a self-described ‘errand-boy’ for the town. In their distinctively small and quaint island community, the various folks cordially greet and socialize with each other. In a telling scene, we find the town mayor (played by the late Menggie Cobarrubias) biking through and encountering Intoy, asking him to find a speaker for a dance event scheduled for later that night.
Intoy speaks to his sister from Signal Rock
Yet accompanying this simplicity—and visible throughout the film—is a certain sense of despair wrought by the economic difficulty which most townspeople face—Intoy and his family among them. Lacking economic opportunity, the men of the town sit in circles and drink, while families have come to expect their daughters to leave the town and marry foreigners as a way of escaping their desperate poverty.
This situation is hardly fulfilling for anybody in the equation. When Gina (Mara Lopez) returns to the island with her new fiancee, an elderly white German, her situation makes clear the emptiness of this dream. For Gina, the relationship is purely transactional: she sees it as a way of escaping economic difficulty. Therefore unfulfilled, she cheats on the German by still meeting with her ex-boyfriend Joaquin, to whom she pleads her emotional distance to the situation and promises an unlikely future in their relationship.
Meanwhile, Vicky’s situation serves as a warning for this desperate dream. Despite her onscreen absence, her influence looms throughout the film. From phone calls on ‘signal rock,’ she informs Itoy that due to domestic abuse she has her husband and now has to prove her financial stability in a court case to win custody of her daughter. Here, the film really gets going as Intoy gets to work finding different people in their community to help, falsifying papers and properties with the hope of bringing Vicky and her daughter back to the island. The shared community of their town emerges, and the beauty and strengths of such a rural space are affirmed.
Signal Rock’s excellence lies in its toeing the line between the entertaining aspects of its drama and reflecting into cinema the tensions that economic strain can bring into rural communities. Still, the film is much more than this: there is a wealth one can find in Signal Rock between the relationships of Intoy’s parents (Daria Ramirez and Nanding Josef), his romantic relationship with Rachel (Elora Españo) and in the various other characters of the film and the goings-on of their island town. It is, after all, an excellent film—and, like all excellent films, contains plenty of valuable themes from which to ponder.
Cover photo from Signal Rock Facebook page.