FNC Review: Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember.

Khavn De La Cruz has a wild mind and after seeing Ruined Heart, one could only expect a crazy storyline, crazy scenes, and some dead people from Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember.

We are in 2025 in Manila when the film opens on a street party. Then, we see a shoot from National Pornographic who shows the shantytown in its realness. Next, we are transported to a group of kids aged around 5 to 15 getting a motivational speech by their leader, Boss. This is the Kostka gang, which happens to be one of the scariest gangs of the hood. Yes, you’ve read correctly: a bunch of kids who live together, not knowing their parents’ whereabouts or if they are still alive, traumatize the population of their shantytown. The Kostka gang isn’t afraid to kill, steal or punch to get their way. They rob a bus, they shoot everyone in a supermarket, and they try robbing a bank. After the robbery goes awry, the Boss finds himself in prison for 28 years. Khavn shows what happens in those years through sketches on walls and chairs.

The second half of the film is when the Boss gets out and reunites with the surviving members of the gang. They want to get the bank money back from the police and conspire on how to do it. Though, weirdly enough, some of the members start dying in strange ways. Also, who is this mysterious grandmother who confesses to various crimes?

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember.

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember.

Fragile hearts please abstain, especially if you can’t stand the sight of children holding guns and smoking cigarettes. The most shocking scene is probably the ones where you see the youngest gang member Day-Old-Chick holding a gun during the gang’s meeting on screen. Her description is “she started smoking before she could walk” and you later see her smoking while holding a gun.

Khavn has us thinking about how life really is in the Philippines. Are children really living like that? Though, can we be surprised with the population size and the poverty of this country being invaded by tourists who come and go? After all, isn’t it supposed to be a work of fiction? Though aren’t most works of fiction inspired by true facts, only highly exaggerated? This film leaves me with more questions and wanting to know more about the Philippines, while wondering who you could really trust when you’re a gang member.

Alipato: The Very Brief Life of an Ember screened as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma last week.