Directed by Benito Bautista
Cast: Ronnie Lazaro (Limuel Alcantara), Raymond Bagatsing (Emmanuel Lazaro), Edwin Nombre (Diego Gawaran), Angelo Fajdardo (Amel Kalimlim)
Runtime: 110 minutes
It is nearing Christmas time in Metro Manila. Limuel, a beleaguered taxi driver, steers his cab through the city as it turns to dusk. A radio broadcast brings us up to date with local news: Christmas shopping, heavy traffic, the illegal dealings of cab drivers, and the disappearance of the Commissioner of Interior and Local Government. Limuel picks up a passenger outside a restaurant, a suave gentleman headed towards Antipolo.
It is a slow, jittery ride, and driver and passenger make small talk. Through their conversation we learn of the cab driver’s tribulations; the company extracts a stiff “boundary” (quota) on the fare, forcing Limuel to work a 24-hour shift to be able to support his family. As they move into the darker quarters of the city, the talk turns somber. Almost immediately, three boys from the street swoop into the car and hold the passenger hostage with ice picks. Limuel, quite evidently, is a reluctant accomplice, owing the boys a different sort of “boundary.” “I’m sorry, Sir. Just trying to make ends meet,” is all he can manage as his feeble defence. Diego, the high-strung leader of the boys, takes over the wheel as they roam around searching for an ATM. They pass a checkpoint where the passenger is recognised by the guards who choose not to blow their cover. Suspicious of his hostage’s identity, Diego stops the car and confronts him. Minutes later they are caught in the arresting beam of headlights, surrounded on all sides by a posse of SUVs…
Boundary is a remarkably tense film, with an opening that feels distinctly like something out of Beckett or Buñuel: a vagrant Limuel wanders about, fiddles with his shoe, eats a banana and then, shortly after, there is a fleeting image of a dead bird in the water. Through the rest of the film, director Benito Bautista maintains a steady hold in a drama of unsteady moments. The first half is dominated by seemingly mundane exchanges between Limuel and his passenger, and yet, I found it as unsettling as the terrifying denouement. The dialogue is sparse and there are pregnant pauses before the characters answer each other. There are hints and red herrings but you always sense – in their shifting glances and the manner in which they measure each other – that one man will betray the other. But who will betray who?
This foreboding air is accentuated, perhaps too eagerly at times, by the sound design and score. Coke Bolipata’s string arrangements pierce through in near-operatic stabs. The ambient noise of traffic pervades, but is abruptly sucked out every now and then to leave us with the hollow silence of interiors. As a visual synonym, McCoy Tarnate’s cinematography is made up mostly festishising close-ups of faces and objects, punctuated by overhead glimpses of Manila by night. And somewhat perversely, given the murky undertones of the film, everything is bathed in the tungsten glow of streetlamps and the festive interiors of Limuel’s car. Only moments before the car is invaded, Limuel is presented with a Christmas lantern by his passenger.
As the ragged Limuel, Ronnie Lazaro’s performance anchors the film in the quicksand between guilt and despair. The most enduring image of Boundary is his browbeaten face, captured in the frame of the rear view mirror, staring forth into uncertainty. Raymond Bagatsing strikes a delicate balance between candour and mystery as the passenger, Emmanuel. One is never sure what he is thinking and his unwavering composure suggests that he is always a step ahead. Indeed, the most unnerving feature of Boundary is the moral ambiguity that clouds the film. Bautista’s Manila is not heartless, but you would be hard-pressed to find a shred of innocence on its streets. In one of the more startling moments in the film, a young boy at a gas station shows Limuel a scar from a stab wound. The cab driver sympathises and offers him a few coins and a caution. “Be careful.” “You be careful”, the boy spits back. Much of the violence in Boundary occurs at the end, but long before that, you have already sensed a firm hand at your throat.
Boundary received the NETPAC Award at the 7th Cinemalaya Independent Philippine Film Festival.