Scene from "Signal Rock" (2018)

Scene from Signal Rock (2018)

Cell phone reception is something many take for granted, but in some parts of the world, people may have to go travel to the next town or city to be able to make or receive a call or text message on their mobile devices. In the case of Signal Rock, by Chito Roño, residents of a remote island village have to climb a gigantic rock formation along the seashore to get a signal.

A young man, Intoy (Christian Bables), has to climb this jagged limestone outcropping to call his sister Vicky (Judy Ann Santos, heard only in phone calls) in Finland and follow up on her dollar remittances to the family: mother (Daria Ramirez), father (Nanding Josef) and another sibling (Arnold Reyes). This reflects a bigger story: many Filipino women are leaving the Philippines to seek greener pastures. That Vicky is being physically abused by her husband and may lose custody of her daughter in Finland is emblematic of the situation that some Filipina overseas workers find themselves in.

Rody Vera, whose screenwriting credits include internationally acclaimed auteur Lav Diaz’s Norte, the End of History, explained the genesis of his story and screenplay: “The main story involving Intoy is based on a real-life story that Chito Roño narrated to me. I was so fascinated by the story, but Chito and I thought it might be better to fictionalize the details so that we (could) also tell the other stories of the town.”

“The phenomenon of young women leaving their hometown seems to be present in several regions in the country. The island of Biri (in Northern Samar, Philippines) is not an exception. This definitely affects the economic aspirations of the town. Whatever impact it has on the nation can be compared to the whole migrant worker mindset that began in the 1980s. It is the sad solution to unemployment and the lack of opportunities in the homeland.”

Vera added, “It changes the values of many Filipinos – those who are left behind as well as those who have chosen to leave. What the film hopes to reveal is that even on the home front, the families and townspeople are affected by this migration as they cope with sometimes disastrous results.”

But Vera and Roño, a veteran Filipino filmmaker who has won numerous awards, and whose Dekada ’70 is a chronicle of the repression in the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law rule, also make it a point to depict that in this village, it’s not all grim. Many of the villagers willingly consent, with whatever resources (legal or not) they have, to help Vicky retain custody of her daughter and go back home.

Bables, who won the best actor award in the 2018 Hanoi International Film Festival for his performance in this film, leads the cast of reliable stage and indie film actors, that include Mon Confiado, Jomari Angeles, Mara Lopez, Ces Quesada, Mengie Cobarrubias, Sue Prado, Elora Españo and Joel Saracho. Cinematographer Neil Daza focuses on the tale at hand, not allowing his camerawork to be distracted by the natural beauty of the Samar island. In the end, the filmmakers send a strong signal of their own: the people who are left behind matter just as much as those who leave.