Breathtaking in the assured manner it weaves naturalist and magic realist elements, Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.’s tragicomic Fable of the Fish examines belief, specifically the curious conflation of folk tales, urban myths and Christianity unique to the Philippines.
The film begins with the arrival of Miguel (Bembol Roco) and Lina (Cherry Pie Picache), a childless middle-aged couple, in Manila. Fleeing their impoverished existence in a rural area, they take refuge in a makeshift shaft constructed in a garbage dump. A relative has secured Miguel a job at an ice-processing plant but, unable to deal with the extreme temperatures, he soon falls ill and the pair become scavengers. The saintly and patient Lina carries on, but Miguel is mortified by the change in their circumstances. When Lina suddenly (and miraculously) becomes pregnant, Miguel is determined to persevere. But instead of a child, she gives birth to a milkfish. Lina and her offspring quickly become celebrities, much to Miguel’s humiliation.
Based in part on recent events (a TV host did actually become godmother to a fish, or so I’m told), Fable of the Fish is packed with urban mythologies that are presented as gospel truth. But the crux of the film is an investigation of the burden and rewards of faith and the delusions that can accompany them — all reflected in the schism between Miguel, who’s so mortified that his life spirals out of control, and Lina, who’s so buoyed by what’s happened that she prospers wildly. When Miguel argues that Lina is behaving irrationally, she informs him that God sometimes makes mistakes and it isn’t up to anyone to question them.
All of this could be seen, derisively, as comedy, but Alix’s decision to play the film naturalistically (and to use dramatic rather than comic actors) elevates the work to something new under the sun. It’s a satire that sympathizes deeply with its subjects, and a clear sign that one of the most adventurous national cinemas of the last decade is still taking startling risks. –TIFF
Adolfo Alix, Jr. was born in 1978 in Makati City, Philippines. He graduated magna cum laude at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila) with a degree in Mass Communications. He started as a screenwriter for film and television before starting to direct features in 2006. His first film, DONSOL (2006), was the Philippines’ official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards. Since then, he has become one of the most promising young filmmakers from the Philippines. His subsequent films were screened and acclaimed in various international film festivals including Cannes, Toronto, Rotterdam, Locarno, Moscow, Pusan, Warsaw, and Mar del Plata. Alix has recently been listed in The Hollywood Reporter‘s “Next Generation Asia 2010,” which features the top 20 young entertainment personalities in the region deemed “the best and the brightest among their peers.” —Visit Films