Taklub follows the lives of survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban. Bebeth (Nora Aunor) lost her children in the storm, and is hoping that a DNA test will lead to her finding their bodies. In order to get a better result, she needs to find their father (Soliman Cruz), who now has another family. Pedicab driver Larry (Julio Diaz) tries to find meaning through religion, the man taking part in a weekly show of devotion through the stations of the cross. Erwin (Aaron Rivera), meanwhile, is trying to get through the bureaucracy in order to finally get a home for his family.
The film largely foregoes drama. In some ways, it even foregoes character. This isn’t so much a story of specific people, as it is a story of a place, one that happens to have undergone tremendous devastation. It is a slice of time in the aftermath of the storm, a portrait of a population trying to get its life back together. It is an intriguing approach, to be sure, but it doesn’t always make for compelling fiction. Despite the heaviness of the subject, the film ends up feeling a bit slight. The film might be trying too hard to be graceful in an environment that calls for something more blunt.
Mendoza’s movies have always put milieu about character. They eschew long, introductory scenes that tell us about who the characters are, and instead construct the character through their interactions with the environment. It is an approach that has served the director well. The difference between Taklub and his other films is that it splits its attention between three different story threads that rarely intersect. The film ends up feeling a tad detached as it flits between narratives, the characters lost as the focus repeatedly shifts between them.
These stories are worth telling, and within the context of fiction, they deserve the time to be properly told. The characters need time to distinguish themselves from the devastation, to emerge from the backdrop of tragedy. But that doesn’t quite happen in this film. There is a certain grace to its restraint, but it doesn’t feel entirely preferable to the usual fire that Mendoza brings to his films.
This isn’t to say that the film is bad, exactly. It is beautifully shot, the camera often finding strange beauty within scenes of utter tragedy. It is really well acted. Nora Aunor, of course, is amazing. She is the rare superstar actress who can still disappear within a role. She lets Bebeth’s humanity spill right out of the screen, the actress conveying a mix of resolve and weariness. Julio Diaz is a lot showier than Aunor, but he still manages to make way for the milieu. In this role, Diaz makes plain a spiritual struggle, delivering a performance filled with inner turmoil. This is a very well put-together film, and is probably the easiest and most accessible of Mendoza’s films yet.
It might be mentioned that Taklub was originally pitched as a documentary, and one wonders if these stories might have been better served in that capacity. Taklub is a fine little advocacy film, one that makes clear that there is much work left to be done, that the people of Tacloban are still struggling to put their lives back together. But as a piece of fiction, it isn’t quite able to fulfill the obligations of narrative. This doesn’t negate its formidable artistic achievements, but it does make one wonder what might have been.