JANINE Gutierrez won the best actress award in the recent QCinema International Filmfest for her crackerjack portrayal of a timid, oppressed young woman who becomes more aggressive and assertive after she accidentally finds a gun left by a thug in their street. And she truly deserves her trophy. Her character is purposely made nameless to stand for all those women who are often treated marginally in our sexist and patriarchal society.
Janine is deglamorized in her role as a lowly saleslady in a department store who has to deal with their manager who constantly insults her, the drunken kanto boys in their place who make fun of her everytime she passes by, her landlord who berates her for not being able to pay her rent on time, the abusive boyfriend of her roommate, the sari sari store vendor who often ignores her when she’s buying something and her co-worker (Felix Roco) who rapes her.
Life is a real daily struggle for her. Just going to and from her place of work is a gruelling everyday expedition by foot in dark sidestreets, by jeep and by bus that are always crowded. She also has to contend with her mother who lives in the province and has married another man.
The movie is actually divided into two parts. The first half is about the “Babae” in the title, who is Janine. At the climax of Janine’s story when she confronts her oppressor with a gun, her narrative is abruptly stopped and the second half of the movie unfolds. This is about the “Baril”, how it was made by a cop (Archie Adamos), used in the daring assassination of an activist by another cop (Allan Paule), inherited by that cop’s son who also grows up to be a cop (JC Santos), who then uses it on a balut vendor who turns out to be a drug pusher (an excellent Elijah Canlas), then another young thug (Sky Teotico) gets hold of it and uses it in a robbery and the killing of an old woman, before it finally falls into the hands of Janine who then uses it to take revenge on her rapist.
We love the scenes where Janine finally gets back at her tormentors, including a bully who’s buying shoes from her and tries to hit on her. It’s a truly compelling performance as you can feel the anger that engulfs her and you know she really has had enough of the indignities she’s been constantly subjected do and is about to burst like a dam. We particularly like that scene where she talks back to her manager and makes him eat her stockings that he is always critical of. She also confronted the tambays who jeer her at sila ay biglang natameme when she picks up a bottle of beer and threaten them. We just wish she did something even more drastic and violent to her rapist, like what Angela Markado did, and didn’t eventually just let him go that veasily. After all, he does deserve a harsher punishment for pretending to be nice to her when he is actually a brute with a hidden agenda all along.
The film is the directorial debut of Rae Red (cousin of Mikhail and niece of Raymond), who also wrote the script and is most certainly a welcome addition to our roster of women filmmakers. She captures perfectly and unflinchingly all the grime and stressful elements of the underbelly of an overcrowded city that can be exhausting for anyone, man or woman. She makes imaginative use of the musical score that relies heavily on percussion and the songs she chose that actually make relevant comments about us as Filipinos, like “Magnanakaw” by Asin that will surely make you say “Ouch!”
Rayver Cruz came to the press preview of "Babae at Baril" and they're obviously lovey-dovey but have yet to formally admit their romantic relationship. He's obviously very supportive of her and just stayed in the sidelight while writers were interviewing Janine. When we asked him how he feels about Janine's best actress win, he says: "I'm very proud of her. I told her right noong gala night pa lang sa QCinema that she'd win and I was right. And she really deserves it."