Give Up Tomorrow follows the strange case of Paco Larrañaga, who at the age of 19 was arrested for a murder he couldn’t have possibly committed. The evidence is clear: the murders took place in Cebu, and at the time, Paco was documented to be in Manila. But the young runs up against several forces who don’t seem interested in the truth: accusers who have something to hide, a police force eager to resolve the issue, a media hungry to convict, a judge unwilling to listen to testimony, and a populace apathetic to his plight.
In an age when the powers-that-be seem eager to suppress the truth, Give Up Tomorrow seems particularly important. It is less the story of an innocent than it is the story of a guilty country. It is the story of terribly flawed individuals operating within a broken system, of delusions of justice and conspiracies of oppression. The movie stands as a powerful indictment of the Philippines as a whole, where justice only exists in the abstract, and the truth isn’t as important as the narrative established by those who hold the reins.
That might sound like dour viewing, but the movie is able to lay all this out at a brisk clip, and with a fairly objective eye. There is clearly an agenda to the film, but the facts are still laid out as plainly as possible. The film painstakingly works in the details, creating a solid chronology of events. As strange as things get, the movie stands as a clear-eyed observer to everything that’s happening. The interviews don’t take an accusatory tone, and the subjects are allowed to respond as they wish.
The story they end up telling is a bitter pill to swallow. It paints out a vast map of complicity in ensuring that an innocent man goes to prison. It shows the entire country at its worst, with those in power wielding their influence to bury the truth, and the public turning a blind eye to all these shenanigans. But it’s important to take our medicine. The film doesn’t quite offer solutions to the broken justice system, but it does provide a roadmap to its weaknesses. It fleshes out the connections and the spheres of influence that managed to cause such a great injustice.
We don’t get a lot of documentaries in our theaters. At best, we get glorified promotional films that follow pop stars around as they tour. The Philippines has a fine tradition of documentary filmmaking, and Give Up Tomorrow is a great addition. It and its ilk offer something that many of our movies seem ill equipped to deliver these days. It offers the truth, as painful and sad as it can be. As the government threatens our freedom of speech through its draconian legislation, films like Give Up Tomorrow seem all the more important. But even detached from its current political relevance, the film is admirable for the craft and talent on display. It’s a gripping documentary that really lets the truth come to fore.