There is no denying the sincerity of veteran director Joel Lamangan in making Patikul. Education is after all an issue that can never be overemphasized. It needs to be talked about because there is an alarming lack of it especially in the riskier and more remote areas in the Philippines. Patikul was born out of that very noble intention of educating the public on the deficiencies of the policy on education in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the film is as effective as a lousy kindergarten teacher teaching calculus to a room full of monkeys.
Patikul tells the story of Kan-Ague Elementary School in Patikul, Sulu. Two of Kan-Ague's best students are chosen to compete in the region's quiz bee. Determined to grab the top prize, the students prepare for the quiz bee with the help of the school's supportive principal (Marvin Agustin) and teachers. However, the students get caught in the middle of the hostilities between the government and the terrorists.
Since Patikul borrows the name of an actual place for its title, one would logically expect Lamangan to shoot the film in that place. Instead, the film was shot in locations in Rizal and Cavite that could pass for the town of Patikul, or what Lamangan envisions Patikul in Sulu would be. The danger of the convenience-fueled resourcefulness is that it makes the film based on a certain interpretation of a place, an interpretation that is not unlike a ghastly stereotype. Thus, the film is erroneously emboldened by its pretty but empty visuals of rolling hills, dark forests, bustling town centers, and busy coffee farms. However, these locations are just stages, the characters are just performers, and the film is just an explicit exercise of fakery.
Sincerity and conviction are too different things. Patikul is a sincere film that lacks conviction. The confusion shows. The performances are obviously thinly inspired, grounded more on the need to get things done sure and fast than any genuine understanding of what their characters are going through. Agustin's performance is predictably flat. The performances of Martin delos Santos and Angeli Nicole Sanoy, who gave life to the determined students who were chosen to compete for the quiz bee, are lacking in depth. The other supporting cast-members, with the probable exception of Glaiza de Castro who gives a modestly heartfelt depiction of one of the schoolteachers, are needless pretty faces and familiar names whose only contribution to the film is publicity.
The actors, however, are only acting out what the screenplay tells them to act out. Sadly, Kristoffer Brugada's screenplay, which surprisingly won a Palanca award, is a horrendous mess. It is ridiculously talky, indulging in dialogue that makes more obvious the already obvious. Its desire to be "full of heart" (for a lack of a better phrase) is too put on, too manufactured.
Lamangan treats the screenplay with reverence it does not deserve. Thus, the result is this confused work whose only merit is that it seems to signal that the type of uninvolved filmmaking that Lamangan has gotten too used to from working as a hired gun for film studios and television stations can no longer work when the film that needs to be made involves the director's sincerest advocacy that he longs to communicate. That said, Patikul is independent only by association, nothing more.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)