CINEMALAYA REVIEW: “Transit” (2013, Hannah Espia)

6271d24a-4312-4515-b3a1-a93c4745a929_21131_10152780267100417_905145822_nRATING: 9/10

Director: Hannah Espia
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ping Medina, Mercedes Cabral, Jasmine Curtis-Smith & Marc Justine Alvarez
Screenplay: Hannah Espia

A couple of weeks ago, I was able to sit and speak to Hannah Espia’s mother. She’s a friend of my mom and I had the pleasure to meet her and hear her speak very highly of her daughter Hannah, who directed and wrote “Transit”. Being the fake film snob that I am, I wanted to wait till CINEMALAYA and watch the movie myself and decide on my own whether it’s good or bad (and being a film student myself, we all love to do that). But what I came to see changed my opinion completely about Filipino independent cinema. This is because “Tranist” (the first movie from this year’s CINEMALAYA festival I got a chance of seeing) was nothing short but brilliant. Espia’s wonderful direction and screenplay rolled off the natural tongues of her very talented ensemble cast, that didn’t only make the film entertaining but touching and full of heart.

The film didn’t need a showy plot or a gritty sexuality to be good. It brought us into the lives of a Filipino family living in Israel that exposed the government’s treatment of deporting children of foreign workers who didn’t pass a certain “criteria” to stay within the country. The cast is led by Ping Medina who plays caregiver Moises (the father figure of the family) who works as equally hard as his partner Janet (Irma Adlawan) as they struggle to hide their children from the government, looking for kids to deport. Yael (Curtis-Smith) and Joshua (Alvarez) play the Filipino but Israel-born children that their parents strongly want to hide and protect. Also in the story is Tina (Cabral), a woman recently employed in the country who learns the ropes of the entire situation, and must battle her own social repression.

What I loved most about Hannah Espia (in terms of both her script and direction) is that you can feel her passion through the screen. For someone we don’t see throughout the movie, Espia’s presence is felt. Being a part of the new breed of director’s for this years film festival, I pray that she gets in next year. Her movie is her baby, and the love and genuine feelings that she paints in her canvas isn’t only stunning to watch, but it gave my heart such an beautiful and uplifting feeling. Props to such a talented woman.

Irma Adlawan was best in show. She is a powerhouse of an actress. Everything from her line delivery to her expressions were at par (and sometimes better) to many of the “Filipino greats”. I am now truly obsessed with this actress because she embodies “acting talent” in recent Filipino cinema. The cast around her doesn’t disappoint either. Medina was emotionally convicting and encapsulates a father’s hard work, love and understanding. Cabral is a seasoned actress that gave a small character larger-then-life emotions that if you didn’t shed a tear, you’re probably heartless.

The young Jasmine Curtis-Smith surprised me big time. Her acting was natural and I see a bright future of her in cinema. She should never stray away from indies or movies like this because her acting chops were visible, and she’s actually terrific at it. Alavarez, the little boy in the film, captured the audiences heart just like Justin Henry did in 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer”. And that’s a fantastic thing.

Espia, is a brilliant woman and filmmaker. If I had a chance to pick at her mind, I would very well say that she’s inspired me to make movies like this if I had the opportunity to. She brought together such a rich culture and incorporated it with our Filipino social issues not only to show us something happening in another part of the world, but she created art that she should truly be proud of. Truly heartfelt filipino cinema is not over people. This film proves that we don’t have to show nudity, sex, drugs and grit to be a good film. When it comes from the heart and you know how to make movies, you will make something equally as beautiful as this film. So far, one of the strongest films of 2013 I’ve seen. Do not miss a chance to see this before the festival closes this Sunday.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Eunice Espia says:

    Thanks for a really sensitive review Chino. From Hannah’s mom.

    1. Thank you po, Tita Eunice. And thank you for reading my review. It was a pleasure meeting you. Please tell your daughter that my peers at DLSU commarts program are all going crazy over her inspiring work. 🙂

  2. plumamystica says:

    Hi! I really like “Transit”, too. Actually, we almost had the same thoughts about it. Here’s my review of “Transit”: 🙂

    1. read your reviews! they’re great. Glad you liked “Transit” too. 🙂

      1. plumamystica says:

        Thank you! You have nice stuff on your blog, too! And you have such plenty of time to watch of all those movies, ha! 🙂

        1. there’s always time for things you’re passionate about. 🙂

          1. plumamystica says:

            Agree! More power to you! 🙂




    Hannah Espia, a new entrant into the cinema in Philippines, has been presented at the IFFI, Goa, 2013 with her film TRANSIT. The film roughly deals with the deportation of children born to foreign workers in Israel has been brought under the scanner “Transit.” Hannah is so much touched by the cruel problems of immigrants of children the concerned Filipino parents strive to prevent their forced removal of their Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking children. While tackling such a live issue Hannah has gracefully directed and inventively employed means to make it a work of universal human problem. Incidentally Hannah has won the major prize in the New Breed section at Cinemalaya for a human documenat. “ The film is of 93 minute duration.

    The fact is that though dealing specifically with laws affecting some of the 40,000 Filipinos currently living and working in Israel, “Transit” also speaks of the broader global tragic scnerio of displaced people — whether refugees, asylum seekers or foreign guest workers — who are forced to dessert homeland in search of a better life and living.The story takes place in 2009 and 2010, when Israel announced changes to citizenship status of children born to foreign workers. It narrates how Janet (Irma Adlawan), a cleaner and single mother who has lived in Israel for many years, this means the possible deportation of teenage daughter Yael (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), whose Israeli father is mentioned but never seen. And this triggers of hele of problems for the law-keepers of the land. Living in even greater fear is Janet’s brother, Moises (a home-care nurse for kind-hearted old man Eliav and solo parent of 4-year-old Joshua. The Govt. goes stern on the issue of immigrants and promulgates tough new laws promising the removal of children under 5, Moises takes the extreme step of keeping Joshua indoors until his next birthday, at which time his legal position improves somewhat.
    Also appears in the mix is Tina, a Filipino friend of Janet’s who arrives in Israel with high hopes of sending a significant sum of money home to her family. However, due to flaws in treatment Tina’s absorbing story fizzles out in the film’s midpoint. What is of good interst is that Janet’s and Moises’ respective dramas are much more satisfyingly played out, both of them concerned with the notion of identity and fraternity. Janet is saddened by Yael’s inability to speak Tagalog and unwillingness to identify with her Filipino background; with an Israeli boyfriend, Omri, Yael sees herself as exclusively Israeli. Moises’ frantic efforts to hide Joshua from authorities raises questions of whether the perceived promise of a better future is worth the price of living in such fear. Hannah in her treatment is aware of immigrants issue all over the globe that uproot thousands of immigrant like dos and cats.
    Hannah structures her film in a way that does not look melodramatic or unrealistic. Herein lies the forte of her work. Scenes set among the larger Filipino worker community around Tel Aviv effectively capture the spirit of fraternity among outsiders, as well as the flipside of suspicion surrounding those who may have turned informant for their own gain. It is good to see that the Israeli civilians are shown as sympathetic to the foreign-worker cause; immigration officials and police are seen as neither relishing nor objecting to their work. TRANSIT IS a bit prosaic work but appeals to the audience, alive with sensibility.
    Busan Film Review: ‘Transit’
    Reviewed at Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival (New Breed), Aug. 3, 2013. (Also in Busan Film Festival — New Currents, competing.) Running time: 93 MIN.

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