Supposedly inspired by the
news of the kidnapping of a famous journalist by the Abu Sayyaf, Sigfried
Barros-Sanchez's Tsardyer (Charger) tells the story of Shihab
(Martin delos Santos), a young boy who is recruited into the group to run back
and forth from the kidnappers' den to the nearest house to charge the cellular
phones used by the kidnappers to communicate their demands for the release of
their captives. Barros-Sanchez, unsatisfied with the already promising premise
of the boy who gets caught right in the middle of the war, needlessly expands
his reach, tackling without benefit of any clear direction everything from
corruption within the military and the role of media in the troubles in
The film's cast, composed of mostly reliable thespians like Neil Ryan Sese, who plays Shihab's pacifist father, Dimples Romana, who plays the reporter who was kidnapped, and Shamaine Buencamino, who plays the media executive tasked to negotiate with the kidnappers, sift through a screenplay that is a patchwork of atrociously stilted dialogue and confused approximations of what is happening in Mindanao. Perhaps the biggest perpetrator of the dangerously one-dimensional acting that contributes to the film's abominable one-sided appreciation of the conflicts in Mindanao among the actors involved in the film is Pipo Alfad, who plays the kidnapping band's high-strung leader with unadulterated and detestable villainy, reciting his hammed up lines with mismatched conviction, and filling the screen with probably well-intentioned but inevitably vulgar gesticulations.
The musical score, if one can consider the unimaginative and annoying repetitions of trite melodies music, lazily cues the mood, the setting, the intended emotion. Even more unjustified is the film's ridiculous utilization of various songs, all made more abominable by how they are tacked on to specific scenes to manipulate emotions. Visually, the film is frustratingly flat, with cinematography that seems to function only to record what is happening within the frame, nothing more. It's not just the acting, the music, or the visuals. Barros-Sanchez seems oblivious to subtlety. The production is crippled by bluntness. Tsardyer attempts far too hard to be socially relevant, yet it fails more than miserably. What Barros-Sanchez achieves is exactly the opposite of his intentions, inadvertently revealing the pitfalls of using social relevance and advocacy to justify bad filmmaking, or any filmmaking at all, which seems to be a fad for Filipino filmmakers nowadays because of its allure to organizers of film festivals from all over.
The evident bad filmmaking, however, is not the only problem of Tsardyer. The film obnoxiously packages the important and sensitive issues it intends to shed light on within a story that swims clichés and stereotypes. Moreover, Barros-Sanchez pussyfoots, trapping himself with his righteous advocacy for peace while telling a story wherein the Muslim rebels are deranged antagonists and the media are the poor victims. While he reserves a musical montage displaying the undiscovered beauty of battle-torn Sulu and its people, he nevertheless pushes the limits of taste as he presents. While he reserves a musical montage displaying the undiscovered beauty of battle-torn Sulu and its people, he nevertheless pushes the limits of taste as he presents a portrayal of the problems of the region that seems to irresponsibly turn the pressing issues into a massive caricature that is thankfully not funny at all. To make matters worse, Barros-Sanchez seems clueless to his very own incoherence and inconsistency as he champions peace with a sensationalized dramatization of the war.
Tsardyer is one of the most insulting films I have had to suffer through. The insults stem more from the film's irresponsible oversimplification of the grave complexities of the Mindanao problem than the indubitable fact that it is terribly made. It would have been better if the film was forgettable since forgetting it seems to be the only cure to the agony this carelessly mounted film has caused me, yet it is not. Thus, my only hope is that the film, charmless asit is yet persisting like some memory of a traumatic experience, will prove me wrong and be really instrumental in its goal, though questionably communicated, of peace. That's what we all want, anyway.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention)