In Photo: Kusina Official Movie Poster Courtesy of imdb.com
by Zymon Arvindale R. Dykee
Inside a white bungalow, a hallway draped with red curtains leads to a room where its four walls enclose not only a sumptuous feast, but also a banquet of memories. This is the kitchen—a refuge for souls whose passion is to serve.
“Kusina” recounts the story of Juanita (Judy Ann Santos-Agoncillo), whose life revolves around her kitchen. Her mother bore her while lying on a wooden table inside as chili peppers are scattered around. As she ages, her love for cooking manifests while watching her grandmother Inang (Gloria Sevilla) prepare each dish. Once she masters the art of concoction with her grandmother’s help, she finally determines the purpose of her life: to serve every hearty meal she creates to the people she loves.
The masterpiece of David Corpuz and Cenon Palomares highlights the prevailing Filipino perspective of women—particularly wives—to stay inside their homes and place the needs of their families above anything else. This foregrounding, however, subtly depicts a patriarchal ideology of binding women to their homes and it becomes more evident when Juanita’s husband Peles (Joem Bascon) insists that he must be the only person striving to earn an income. Despite this, “Kusina” impressively blurs the notion by propelling the viewers to witness the unwavering faithfulness of Juanita toward her children and the incessant channeling of her love through savory dishes.
The movie also deviates from the traditional method of filmmaking by adopting a continuous narrative of the storyline—paralleling that of stage plays. Through this unconventional approach, viewers can perceive the film smoothly since its transitions have minimal interruptions. Moreover, the camera is maintained to focus on the kitchen presumably to show how Juanita’s life is completely intertwined with it. To elucidate the events caused by the elapsing of time outside her intimate space, the window is occasionally used. For instance, Inang and a teenage Juanita look out of it and witness the sun beam once more as the war during the Japanese period ends.
Since it only concentrates on a single area of the entire house, the film makes use of the details inside the kitchen to represent the characters. In the culinary aspect, there is dissimilarity in each of the personality’s choice of food to convey uniqueness. While Juanita favors adobo among the Filipino meals, her husband likes sinigang and there is never an instance in which he has eaten her preferred dish. The characters also define their dispositions through the colors of their outfits—such as Juanita who wears a beige dress to emanate neutrality and steadiness.
The viewers, throughout the film, function as witnesses of a truthful portrayal of reality through the focal point that is Juanita. They can notice that it is in the kitchen where she tastes all that is sweet and bitter in life. It is where she discovers what her heart desires yet it is also where she becomes enlightened to what destruction is. She personifies the symbol of her favorite dish and her dress’s color—balance, in which there is a mixture of both joy and pain. As emotions grow heavier, viewers can relate themselves to a recurring instance in which Juanita scatters rock salt around the dining area while quietly weeping in the dimness when a loved one passes away.
In the end, “Kusina” leaves an emotional wound for it revels in the idea that what provides solace may also bring distress. While celebrating the Filipinos’ appreciation of mothers, it also touches the soft side of the viewers in a manner that is so powerful.