To my Filipino readers, I’m sure you’re familiar with Rory Quintos’ Anak. As Philippine’s submission to the 73rd Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Anak is often regarded as the best Filipino movie of all-time.
Anak is a touching tale, reflecting the hardship numerous overseas Filipino domestic workers have to undergo for the sake of their family’s livelihood. In the film, Josie, portrayed by Vilma Santos, is the representative for those tireless Filipino maids and nannies working abroad. After several year of working for a wealthy couple in Hong Kong, Josie finally earns the opportunity to return to her native Philippines and reunite with her children, whom she hasn’t see for many years.
Upon arriving in her homeland and meeting her grownup children, Josie realizes that the next chapter in her life was not what she expected. First, her plans of starting a business in her hometown are met with several unresolvable obstacles. In addition, Josie discovers that her absence from her children’s lives have made them emotionally-guarded, especially considering the death of their father, Josie’s husband, following Josie’s departure from the Philippines. Her eldest daughter, Carla, portrayed by Claudine Barretto, has especially grown explicitly hostile towards her. Josie discovers that years of working aboard to financially support her children have, ironically, made her a stranger in their eyes.
The Philippines is mired with poverty and widespread unemployment. Since the Marcos administration in the 1970’s, thousands of Filipino laborers were dispatched to the Persian Gulf, initially to ensure a steady supply of oil while attempting to resolve the unemployment crisis. Since that initial wave of emigration, Filipinos have sought low-skilled jobs all over the world, from Hong Kong to Riyadh. These migrant workers endure harsh work conditions and abusive employers in order to ensure a better life for their families back home.
Interestingly, a significant portion of these migrant workers tend to be women, making them the primary breadwinners of their respective households. In the film, one of Josie’s friends chastises Josie’s husband for not ‘being man enough’ to seek job opportunities aboard and provide for his family, burdening his wife with that task.
As the movie progresses, the plot turns its attention to Carla. Struggling with feelings of abandonment, Carla carries heavy resentment for her mother while longing for her now-deceased father. She has descended into a life of promiscuity and debauchery. Surprisingly, she has even had two abortion as a result of her self-destructive lifestyle. Josie displays nothing but unconditional love and affection for her oldest daughter, which has only enraged Carla as she continues to carry that baggage of rancor.
Claudine Barretto wonderfully conveyed the rebellious nature of Carla’s character. She and Vilma Santos made a brilliant mother-and-daughter pair, capturing the nuances and grey texture of a parent-child relationship, similarly to Nil Batay Sannata.
Anak effectively reflected the burdens and anxieties of millions of Filipinos struggling to make ends meet. Parents worrying about their children’s future. Children burdened with the pressure of succeeding academically in order to please their parents and climb the social ladder. The reason behind Anak’s fame was its ability to resonate with its Filipino viewers, particularly overseas workers and the lower-middle-class at large.
Anak is an ode to all overseas Filipino workers, strenuously laboring not only for themselves and their families, but for the entire Filipino population