A lot people have probably written off Katas ng Saudi as the “Jinggoy film,” and are completely ignoring it. This is a mistake. Clever, funny, and genuinely heartwarming, Katas ng Saudi is definitely one of the better films of this year’s Filmfest.
Oca is an OFW who works in Saudi as an oil driller. He happily returns home for a vacation after ten long years, but finds that his life in the Philippines isn’t exactly what he imagined it would be. His children have all grown up without him, and barely know him at all. His mother and sister have become wholly dependent on his remittances from Saudi, and are taking advantage of him. And he finds that all his fortune still leaves him struggling to keep his family afloat.
This isn’t the first movie about the plight of OFWs, but this film takes a really interesting angle. This isn’t an OFW being treated badly abroad, or one that’s simply trying to get home. Oca is successful and looked up to in Saudi, and he has made it home, but things still aren’t easy. That’s the genius of this premise: the realization that going home isn’t necessarily the happy ending. In here, it’s just the beginning of the drama. It’s a fine story, and it’s told with a very good screenplay that is pretty funny most of the time and absolutely heartbreaking when it needs to be. There are a couple of character arcs that don’t really get the time they need, but otherwise, there’s really not much to complain about. It’s a very satisfying tale that leads to an excellent conclusion.
Jose Javier Reyes has proven time and again that he is one of the best filmmakers we have, and this film is no exception. He doesn’t employ many tricks, choosing instead to keep it simple, and keep it real. There is a general sense of honesty in the film, a sort of earnestness that keeps it grounded. And he keeps it tight, never letting a scene go without it meaning something.
He also brings out a lot from the cast. People have a lot of preconceived notions about Jinggoy Estrada, but he is a good choice for the role. Jinggoy shines when conveying Oca’s imperfections, playing him with a swaggering machismo that just feels genuine. There are some emotional scenes where he kind of falters, but it’s easy to forgive. The real star of this show, however, is Lorna Tolentino. She is fabulous as Mercy, Oca’s wife, showing incredible range and presence.
Katas ng Saudi isn’t ground-breaking. It doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t seen before. But it is something I wish we saw more often: a good, solid film that tells a compelling story about people. A lot of our local films seem to just be about putting stars together, or showing off what they can do with special effects. Katas ng Saudi is only concerned with telling a story well, and for that, it should be applauded.
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