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Foreign Oscar Entry Review: Transit

Reviews
by Carlos Aguilar
December 29, 2013 6:52 AM
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Hannah Espia's 'Transit'
Hannah Espia's 'Transit'

Transit, The Philippines' Submission for the Academy Award Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. U.S. : None Yet. International Sales Agent: Electric Entertainment.  It will screen at the Palm Springs Film Festival this January.


Storytelling is a matter of perspective. The artist deliberately chooses who is the protagonist and the role the secondary characters play in that individual’s narrative. Every incident is explored, for the most part, from a singular point of view. But what if the same story were told from the perspective of those in the periphery? What if everyone had the chance to display his or her own unique reaction to the same events? Would this place all the characters on the same level of importance and create a democratic retelling of the occurrence? Hannah Espia’s Transit attempts to decode a highly controversial subject by means of multiple vignettes that follow the same period of time as seen through the eyes of every member of a family. In this touching and skillfully edited piece, the director tackles a deeply relevant topic for Filipino nationals thousands of miles away from the Southeast Asian archipelago.

While most developed countries struggle with creating immigration policies, the right to citizenship by birth (jus soli) is perhaps the most divisive issue.  The U.S. and Canada are the only two advanced economies that grant the privilege without objections; the rest of the world deals with the increasing globalization in distinct, sometimes morally questionable manners. In 2010, Israel approved a policy that would allow the government to deport small children of migrant workers who were born in the country, speak Hebrew, and have never seen their parents’ homelands. Espia’s film focuses on two of these children at risk of being separated from their loved ones.

Transit

Conscious of this threatening possibility, Moises (Ping Medina), a Filipino single father who works as caretaker for an elderly Israeli man, hides his 4-year-old son, Joshua (Marc Justine Alvarez), forbidding him from leaving the apartment they share with their compatriot Janet (Irma Adlawan), and her teenage daughter Yael (Jasmine Curtis). Both of their children were born in the Jewish state but are still considered foreigners which creates in them a fragmented identity between their environment and their heritage.

Under the new regulations, Janet’s daughter might be able to become a resident since she is in school and meets the age requirements. Nonetheless, the underlying issue is the turbulent mother-daughter relationship between them. Yael considers herself Israeli, while Janet is adamant about making her see that she does not truly belong with the majority but with her suffering Filipino countrymen. The makeshift family increases its already dysfunctional operations as it receives Tina (Mercedes Cabral), a new immigrant, who will stay with them until she saves enough money to live on her own.

Divided into five segments, one for each of the main characters, the film repeatedly revisits the same interactions as each individual slowly reveals his or her own motivations and contribution to the situation as a whole. On the one hand, Yael is in a relationship with a Jewish boy who sees her as an equal despite their ethnic differences. Still, knowing that Joshua, whom she considers a brother, is in danger of being deported, she can’t entirely find her role within Jewish society. In the same manner Moises’ friendship with his boss testifies of the important services workers like him provide to a country that doesn’t offer them the chance to become a part of it. Unable to speak Tagalog and eager to learn about the Torah, Joshua is essentially like any other kid born in Israel, but to the government he was born in "transit" to immigrant parents. His existence is caught up in between the country where he lives and an unknown homeland.

Thought provoking and carefully constructed to expose the complexity of the matter at hand in an encompassing fashion, Espia’s film delves into a defining part of the modern Filipino identify, one that affects those abroad and in the island nation. Giving each of the participants a particular voice paints a broad picture which questions the morality of the policy at the center of the story. With a proficient ensemble cast and a meticulous attention to its narrative structure, Transit is a poignant exploration of national identity in the increasingly globalized world we all live in today.

Read more about all the 76 Best Foreign Language Film Submission for the 2014 Academy Awards


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