On the surface, Remton Siega Zuasola’s Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria is nothing but a caricature of a Filipino woman on the trades of mail-order bride servicing — a beautified account of human trafficking in the guise of a better future and greener pastures. On a closer inspection, however, we see the tragedy amidst hopes, of the dream that Eleuteria, or Terya, has eventually accepted. Despite this, we are constantly reminded that her ultimate decision — to leave for a loveless union to a man she has not met and to sacrifice herself for the survival of her family — is not for us to judge. When we are mere gossipmongers of a life that we curiously spy on, in this tragedy not so foreign to us, we realize that this is the kind of dream we cannot begrudge the dreamer.
Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, or Eleuteria’s Dream, tells the story of Terya as she moves through the last moments of living in her quaint island-home. In the story’s progression, we find out that she is to go to Germany to marry an old, rich man named Hans as an agreement her mother made with a recruiter aptly named as Ma’am Susie. Her story is interlaced with a series of events that prompted her decision: her father’s opposition of her mother’s constant demand for her to go, her younger sister’s innocence and initial lack of knowledge to the gravity of the situation and her previous lover’s spineless attempt of elopement.
It is easy to say that the beginning of Damgo, when the mother comes searching for Terya to continuously coax her to go to Germany in an ambitious attempt to pull them out of their debts, despite the harrowing reality that backing out is not an option when everything has already been set, is truly the beginning of the story. However, dreams, as they truly are, do not easily start this way. We realize the daunting fact that we are seeing just a speck of Terya and her family’s life. There is no prologue that explains their situation, yet we somehow understand how they got there. It becomes easy for us to fill the background that has previously eluded us, and perhaps it is in this vexing moment that we realize just how close to home Terya has been.
The film opens and closes on the shores to the port of the picturesque landscape of Olango Island. On the one hand, we see its vast spaces and perceive an untapped glory of opportunities waiting for the right eye to notice, yet to many of its locals, fleeing is the better means of living. Set as an impoverish island, the film has not labeled it with a name. It does so in a way that we come to see the likeness it exudes to the slums of our highly-urbanized cities, making a name unnecessary. However symbolic and metaphorical the island may be, the film escapes from becoming a cliché through the intimate storytelling. The realness indulges no sentiments of Terya’s indecisiveness, but shows the truth through her mother’s elaborate words.
Damgo exemplifies how treading the higher ground is much easier when one is already there. Terya, in her struggle to do away with her impending departure, refuses to eat to speak at the beginning of the film. She pretends to drown in shallow waters of a creek and constantly disappears from her parents’ sight. She shows so much hesitation as she battles to make a decision. Eventually she conceded to her mother’s whims, not as a sign of obedience but of rebellion. As she and her family continue to walk through the narrative, as she met an old acquaintance along the way, she swore never to set foot on the island again.
More than anything, Terya’s journey wanders. In the midst of all that occurs in the story, she and her family continue to walk. She has walked through her indecisiveness and hesitation toward acceptance of her fate. We do not realize how far and how long it has been. Yet, we feel the exhaustion. The heat seeps through the screen toward our skin. We feel it as if we are part of the journey. This 90-minute film shot in one-take gives a natural flow to the story, making us empathize with its characters and feel as if everything has not been previously orchestrated — that all of this is taking place in front of us — with us.
Within an hour or so of accompanying the family in their journey, we come to realize that what we are seeing is just a clip of the life they live, a morsel of their suffering bruising our own. The one-shot take from Terya’s pain and frustration to her submission, begs to elaborate what will happen to her and her family next.
In the end, the film has successfully realized the severance of familial ties for the purpose of reaching a dream. It has embodied the sadness due to all the compromise undertaken by those who dream of a better life, outside the comforts of their motherland. However, even as it has shown all the poignant reality of a poverty-stricken society, it has abandoned the closure any romanticist might want.
Despite the pulsating emotions of her departure, Terya boards the pump boat. Where it will take her, we will never be sure. For the tide to bring her to the mainland, to the airport, to Germany, to Hans and to her future, is a slippery slope, a matter of wishful thinking, something that has been asserted by the story since its beginning, yet its forecast is still open for debate. Even as this uncertainty of Terya’s departure cuts into our cores and rips out our heartstrings, we are given no time to cry for the pain and to mourn for the loss – for the family that has been abandoned, for a future that is as uncertain and bleak as its past, for Eleuteria and for the dream. Instead, we are slapped with a reality that all of which that has happened is not a mere 90-minute take-out order, rather, that all the long walks is but a part of an vicious and endless cycle soon to be undertaken by those who are bound to follow.