According to writer-director Alvin Yapan, Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (The Rapture of Fe) is a "poetic and allegorical narrative of a woman's will to survive in an oppressive environment. The woman here, the titular Fe (masterfully played by Irma Adlawan), is an overseas worker, repatriated by the bleak global economy, and is welcomed home by Dante (Noni Buencamino), her violent and barren husband, and Arturo (TJ Trinidad), her young lover who manages the basket factory that employs her and her husband. Amidst the abuses of her husband and the amorous declarations of her young lover, Fe would regularly receive a basket full of fruits from a mysterious suitor. Dante is unable to provide for her economically, while Arturo is unable to abandon both his paralytic father (Jerry Respeto) and the basket factory. Trapped in between two inutile men, Fe is reduced to desperation to the point of making a drastic decision to escape her asphyxiating predicament.
The simplicity of its narrative is seductive. The sharp observations that its narrative bears are instructive. Yapan explains the allegory with the efficiency of a literature professor, which he really is. His characters symbolize the different players that struggle within the patriarchal Filipino society, beholden to foreign forces because its agricultural sector (symbolized by Dante, whose farmland is mortgaged to Arturo and is left untilled) can no longer provide and its industry (symbolized by Arturo whose factory, while earning, is not profitable) has never matured to be self-sufficient. Within the context of Yapan's allegory, Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe blossoms into an academic but pertinent commentary on the state of the nation given its unique history and culture, as presented in the form of a literary tale where hints of the supernatural are weaved into overly familiar experiences of domestic violence and infidelity.
Yapan is not only a brilliant writer of stories that operate well given the differing depths, motivations, and perspectives of his audience. He is also a very effective director, understated in his aesthetics yet able to marry the ambition of his story with the cinematic medium. Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe works even without its allegorical aspirations. The film is gripping in its depiction of domestic violence, particularly in one scene where Dante castigates Fe out of jealousy, hitting and pushing her before finally raping her. Yapan's camera is conscious of the violence, still yet observant, determined to merely document the supposedly private atrocities and allow the emotions and Fe's undeserved victimization to be the only spectacle onscreen. It is this unhindered fluency of Yapan in visually portraying domestic violence that allows him room to move further, further away from reality and into that delicate borderline where reality, insanity, and fantasy meet.
When Fe offers the fruits that she mistakenly believes to be her husband's peace offering (possibly out of shame for hitting her the night before) to her husband, you cannot help but feel pity for the woman who is simply pleading for the respect and affirmation that she deserves from her husband. Knowing that the expectations she has of her marriage are futile renders her efforts that are not only unreciprocated but irrationally punished more wrenching. When we discover Arturo's repressed longing for Fe, we understand and accept it because despite her physical and economic modesty, she exudes a sensuality that seduces. Thus, It is simply unwise to ignore the performance of Adlawan, who transforms Fe from Yapan's literary device into a character you sympathize, you care for, even lust for. If Yapan's visual frankness is admirable, his decision to cast Adlawan, in a role that allows the criminally underused actress to explore the several facets of womanhood (as victim, object of desire, breadwinner, and prize) without compromising the integrity of the character, is simply inspired.
The baskets of fruit appear, unaccompanied by spectacle. Innocent-looking at first, but when blended with the repercussions of her husband's jealousy and the discovery of her young lover's inability to provide, the baskets evolve into something more suspect. As with Rolyo (Film Roll, 2007), Yapan's awarded short film about a farmer and his daughter who travels to the town and back to their farm, the film roll is given layers of importance to arrive at a concluding poignant scene where poverty is playfully depicted with the little girl watching a movie using the film roll used to make a horn, unrolled, and illuminated by candlelight before being turned into a perimeter fence the next morning to ward off birds from their farm, In Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe, the basket of fruits with escalating meanings, thus escaping the object's mundane existence to become first, Fe's temporary reprieve, then, Fe's inescapable punishment, and ultimately, Fe's costly salvation.
first on Lessons From the School of Inattention but is re-published
here after the film's screening in the Tioseco-Bohinc Film Series in Fully