The lead character of "Babae at Baril" is a timid salesgirl (Janine Gutierrez) in a department store. Her manager (Gie Onida), her landlord (Raffy Tejada), her roommate's boyfriend (Jess Mendoza), the sari-sari owner (Jal Galang), the drunks on the roadside, the creepy colleague at work (Felix Roco) -- everyone got on her case. One night, she decided to pick up a gun thrown in a trash pile outside her door. With the gun in her hand, this girl felt a transformative rush of power go through her.
However, the film suddenly started to flash back into the past, when this gun was assembled and given to a policeman named Sonny (Allan Paule) who took a side job as the driver for a couple of other cops whose mission was to assassinate a student leader. Sonny's son Miguel (JC Santos) became a cop himself when he grew up, but was also involved in shady extrajudicial killing operations against drug suspects. From there, the gun would eventually find itself thrown outside the salesgirl's house.
Patrician beauty Gutierrez certainly played against her usual type of role here. She was deglamorized into a mousy unfortunate underdog. By remaining unnamed, I take it that she represented the second-class manner women in general are treated in society -- as a doormat or as a sex object. While I thought it was fun to watch Gutierrez transform into a woman of volatile spunk and confidence as she was empowered by the gun she newly possessed, I am not sure I'm receiving the proper message it was saying about women or to women.
The path the gun took during its years of existence was one strewn with violence and death in the hands of the wrong people. Its destructive power never diminished over the years. The production design people had to recreate an earlier era for its flashback scenes with the Metrocom uniform, owner-type jeeps and rotary dial phone (though the kid's basketball jersey should have been Crispa or Toyota, instead of a Lebron James #6). Santos exuded palpable danger in that scene he had with Elijah Canlas, who also did well as a nervous balut vendor Jun. As the neophyte criminal Steph, Sky Teotico's scenes with the gun were wrought with tension.
One remarkable aspect of this film was the musical score which was evident from the very start of the opening credits. The score was very heavy on the percussion, creating a pulsating vibe throughout the film. The opening song about "alcohol, gambling, coffee and women" set the sleazy mood.
The song "Magnanakaw" by the folk band Asin, which had lyrics indicting Filipinos to have a streak of thievery in their veins, always wanting the easier way out, fit ideally into director Rae Red's vision for this intensely relevant social commentary film.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."