HKIFF Review: An Entertaining Unordinary Life of "Barber's Tales" (Mga Kwentong Barbero)

Barber's Tale

Jun Robles Lana’s “Barber’s Tales” details the life of the politically jaded lower class citizens living under the corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos and the student rebellion that took place in 1975. It is told from the perspective of a widowed barber’s wife, Marilou (played unassumingly well by Eugene Domingo), and narrated by her close friend, Susan.

The film gives a fantastic overview of the Filipino Catholic life without being too overwhelming and difficult to follow. In two hours, the viewer knows the main beliefs of Filipino culture, such as women are second citizens, treated like maids and only good for child-bearing; religious beliefs prevail logical common sense; having a male child is highly valued; women cannot take a man’s profession; there is a distinct dichotomy between the rich and the poor; information trickles down from the rich to the poor and the people believe what they are told without question; family is a strong bond, such that an aunt would struggle her entire life to raise a nephew like her own son; and the young and educated are aware of the corrupt government while others are completely sheltered from it.

“Barber’s Tales” introduces us to Marilou, the wife of the town’s only barber, Jose, who scolds and orders her around like a lowly maid while also cheats on her with prostitutes. After losing both her autistic son and husband, Marilou tries to re-open Jose’s barber shop. Even with the endorsement of the local priest and Mayor, being female was an impediment to her success.

The film starts out slowly and seems to meander towards a mundane tale about a female barber fighting against gender norms, but instead of losing steam and slowing down, it becomes more interesting and exciting as Marilou gets intertwined in the lives of the corrupt and sleazy Mayor; his barren and troubled wife, Cecilia; Marilou’s godson, Edmond’s rebel cause against Marcos’ reign; and her friends, Tessie and Susan’s views on family values. The viewer watches Marilou’s slow transformation from being a thoughtless housewife to a strong, individual contributor to a great cause.

The student rebellion eventually takes center stage yet the humor of everyday life was not lost throughout the film. It could use a couple more sentences or explanations about why the rebellion was so important so the viewer can feel more vested in the cause. At times melancholy and serious and at times light-hearted and fun, Barber’s Tales weaves together a life becoming less ordinary with entertaining ease.

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