Pera-perahang Lata (Penny from the Tin Can) is about the plight of a young man who tries to make up for his inconsiderate moves towards a needy stranger, but he ends up seeing another tragedy from it. It explores the many facets of a struggling life in a world that is full of unpredictable moments, where some things are really beyond one’s control.
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Pera-perahang Lata exposes both the rich culture and the struggle of lower-middle to lower-class Filipinos in the Manila commune set during the Filipino Christmas season , amidst the exciting tradition of gift-giving, caroling, and the “Simbang Gabi.”
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The Christmas season is a time of gift-giving and Christmas decors. And the film takes place at this supposedly happy season. Happy… mainly if you look into the margin up the poverty line… For Nilo, the idealism of a youthful man is slowly being succumbed by disillusionment. And this film traces the plight of this man who is trying to make up for his guilt, but he ends up seeing another tragedy from it.
Life is a collaboration of journeys. With every person met along the way, there is a totally new effect to the person’s path, and to the other people he comes across with.
While journeying around everyday, come to think of it… If you tend to become more observant and more critical about the things you see, hear, and experience, you’ll get certain realizations, or even more questions about life and the society. And that’s how this film came to be.
Pera-Perahang Lata is shot in a factory within Metro Manila, two typical Filipino lower-middle class type apartments, a church, Manila highways, buildings beautifully-lit with Christmas lights and lanterns, and some filthy streets of the Manila urbs.
The setting is during the Christmas season where the needy, middle class, and rich people come together sharing gifts, giving and receiving alms, adorning their homes, offices and other establishments with Christmas decors, and attending the “Simbang Gabi.”
The film’s look is a combination of: the dark and gritty; and the light and Yuletide. The realistic treatment mainly shows the dark alleys, well-lit buildings, and different kinds of people travailing public places.
The Tin Can
Nilo looks, scans, and evaluates the cans made in the factory. In parallelism to this, in his everyday journey from home to work and back home, he gets to see how people shape their own lives; and yet, they don’t actually form their lives alone. Just like the mechanical process of producing cans in the factory affected by external factors, there are always external forces affecting people’s lives and their fates.
The tin can is the film’s binding factor. More than just costing the main character his living and another person’s death, the utilizing of the tin can on asking for alms and the children transforming them into musical instruments for their Christmas carols, the it represents a very frequent element that Filipinos use everyday. At times, they open a can of sardines, meat loaf, tuna, or corned beef to sustain their daily needs. They open a can of fruit cocktail for their “buko salad” for their “Noche Buena.” They open a can of milk for their children. They open a can of juice, soda, or beer to suit their cravings and desires; not to mention they open a can of other things like paint, varnish, and other things for their particular needs.
The story focuses on how an urban environment moves in the present days. In the story, the factory is generally presented as a good company with a boss keeping up with a harmonious relationship with his workers. Inside, it shows the many kinds of people: some working with goodness; some looking wayward or nasty but actually having good hearts; some still working with a positive outlook and dreams for better lives; some working like robots, tolerating whatever comes their way and trying to live each day with no further dreams or aspirations; some pretending to be good but is full of selfish intentions; some keeping up an evil face inside and out. And just like any other sub-sphere in the society, there are always issues and politics revolving around even in a still generally trying to be good environment.
Just like the repetitive processes in the factory, the story shows how some people tend to fall prey to a mechanical life of waking up, going to work, going home, earning a salary, paying bills. Same things, day in, day out. People get used to the repetition and what’s in stored for them in between. And this is when their disillusionment in life comes: their idealism, vim, and vigor become a mere past of unrealized dreams. And yet, on the brighter side of things, it still shows how the Filipinos try to break the monotony and try to put smiles on their faces no matter how hard things get for them.
The Filipino Bond
The idea of the Filipino’s “close family ties” and the importance of relationships are very much apparent in the film.
In the story, it shows how a family member tries his best to keep up with the various needs of his loved ones. In the current economic situation of a typical Filipino family, the breadwinner, male or female, looks for opportunities to become the best provider s/he can be even to the point of sacrificing quality time with the family by working in Manila while the family stays in the province where cost of living is more manageable, or even working abroad to seek for greener pasture, as how most people say it. Moreover, it shows how the family members try to work together in times of problems and tragedies.
The film also shows how the present society moves with the times as mobile phone communication (with the Philippines, while being known as a third world country, is interestingly called as the text capital of the world where people from all classes own at least one cellphone) becomes the major means to get in touch especially with a family living farther away due to urban migration (mainly for work reasons).
And amidst the many tribulations and shortcomings, Filipinos try to look at life better through the company of friends and colleagues. They still find reasons to smile and take life one step at a time.
The Filipino Christmas
Pera-perahang Lata shows the Filipino tradition of attending the Christmas novena, mass better known as the “Simbang Gabi,” for nine straight days until the night or dawn of Christmas Eve.
The city streets live up to the season. The Yuletide air is filled with carolers singing Christmas songs in the streets, malls, residential areas, and various media venues.
The church is seen preparing for such a big celebration by coming up with production numbers and fireworks especially the parishes, or at the least, provide Christmas decors within the religious premises. During these times, the churchgoers are seen wearing their best Christmas outfits, most of them on new clothes, along with new accessories bought from “tiangges” (small boutiques and shopping stalls providing cheaper prices and are usually located along the streets) and the series of mall sales. From the rich ones with cars parked within the church’s vicinity, to the middle class ones riding tricycles to go to the church, to the most financially challenged ones who just merely walk their ways to attend mass, the many classes of people with various reasons in going to their place of worship allot time to either wake up early or sleep late (depending on the schedule of the “Simbang Gabi”) to pray and sing Christmas carols and religious songs. They also eat together the famous “puto bumbong,” “bibingka,” noodles, pan de sal, coffee, and lots of other delicacies especially available during the Christmas season.
The “tiangges,” garage sales, and mall-wide sales are seen around – major streets, PUV (public utility vehicle terminals), subway stations,even in schools, work places, and people’s own garages or anywhere outside their houses. The highways are filled with Christmas lanterns, lights, and trees. Billboards and promotions pertaining to the Christmas season thrive.
As the 13th month pay and Christmas bonuses come in for the working class, many shopping places provide an extra Yuletide feel through the many people buying gifts for loved ones, friends, and colleagues, personal needs of the family, and some luxury stuff that they can only allot some budget on during this time of the year. The shoppers stroll around amidst the Christmas lights and decors and the Christmas music until they reach the restaurants and “carinderias” (canteens and smaller eating stops around public places) to take some time to replenish themselves with food after long walks to buy gifts and the rest of their other needs and wants.
The gift-giving tradition in the Filipino Christmas provides such exciting, warm, and touching moments for family members, relatives, friends, workers, colleagues, and most of all, the children. Exchange gifts for Christmas parties are normally extended with the concept of “monito, monita” and “parent, baby” for a series of themed exchanging of gifts and small tokens during the Christmas season, particularly in offices and schools.