TL;DR: Kabisera is an average, earnest drama about extra-judicial killings made better by its timeliness & an outstanding performance from the legendary Nora Aunor.
Kabisera couldn’t have come at a better time. Based on true events, Nora Aunor plays Mercy, the matriarch of a loving, highly respected family in a small town. Her husband Tonying (Ricky Davao) is a virtuous barangay captain with unshakeable resolve, willing to help out people in need. Both of them have raised five children, each with their own problems, from his son pressured to take up nursing at the behest of his father to his other son who accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant. Their lives start to unravel when Tonying becomes a target of assassination, and is subsequently killed by the police who burst into their home without warning. They claim he & his son are members of a gang involved in a string of bloody bank robberies, & he was shot because he supposedly retaliated from the police. Now, Mercy has to keep her family together while seeking justice for her husband’s wrongful death.
This is one of the few movies this year that deals with the subject of extra-judicial killings, an unfortunate facet of Filipino life whose incidents increased since President Rodrigo Duterte took office; the fact it was made this year is pure coincidence, since the script was originally submitted for MMFF 2015 and was snubbed. Its inclusion in MMFF 2016 is very welcome, seeing as the film festival didn’t have room for explicitly political movies in the past. This movie is solely needed, especially after how “The Super Parental Guardians” explicitly tackled the effects of Duterte’s drug war with terrible results.
However, there’s a nagging sense that it could be better. The movie is split between two halves: a courtroom drama & a family drama. While the former fares slightly better, the latter is bogged down by having too many characters who aren’t given equal opportunities to shine. Both stories are hampered by scenes that are either broad or schmaltzy, an overbearing music that wouldn’t be out of place in a primetime soap. It’s the outcome of its earnestness to show the toll of losing someone in a cruel fashion, which is good-intentioned, but it results on a movie intent on recreating real-life events without delving deeper into its characters, making a hollow movie out of a heavy subject.
Still, it rises slightly above competence with the help of its stellar cast, headed by the always dependable Nora Aunor. She gives the movie the subtlety it needs to succeed, even when she’s saying obviously written dialogue. The rest of the cast follows suit with this approach, especially veteran actors like Ricky Davao playing the role of a good-natured, principled father that’s been one of his specialties. The rest of the cast comes this close to overcoming the script, but often flounders. But when the performances are in sync with the movie’s big moments, the results can be magical; where it finally nails its mix of broad theatrics & sincerity. It can be hard not to look away & get swept up by it.
This whole review might make the movie worse than it is, but that’s not the case. It’s a fine movie we sorely need right now, made better by outstanding performances from some of the best Filipino actors working today. Filipino pop culture will certainly deal with this topic in the near future, but for now, it will satiate the needs of those wanting to see horrid state of politics & justice in our country in front of a big screen. It achieves its goals, but it would leave you wanting for more.