Short Film Review: To Calm the Pig Inside (2019)

To Calm the Pig Inside by Joanna Vasquez Arong is a documentary short film about Hurricane Yolanda, which was an incredibly powerful storm that devastated the Philippines in November 2013. In my eyes, To Calm the Pig Inside manages to effectively express the sorrow, frustration, and the subsequent physical and emotional trauma felt by the victims of such a tragedy. Arong achieves this by taking a subdued and minimalistic approach to the presentation of the event, as well as the issues and its aftermath. In terms of the visuals, Arong utilises a blend of still images, videos of the hurricane and its aftermath as well as truly haunting drawings by children who had witnessed the hurricane. These drawings instil a feeling of complete hopelessness and powerlessness in the audience as all we can do take in what horrors must have been witnessed by the young. 

The imagery is utilised very cleverly as the film opens on a simple yet positive image of children just playing and having fun in some water. However, after a few seconds so seeing this you quickly notice the surroundings. What was once an image of happiness becomes something fairly heartbreaking. On top of this, almost all the imagery is colour graded in black and white to make the audience feel a greater sense of physical distance from the situation, thus turning us into passive participants who can do nothing but stare at what is appearing in front of us on screen. This leads the audience to become heavily affected by what we are witnessing but at the same time, the way the information is presented to us makes us feel powerless in every sense of the word. 

The main way To Calm the Pig Inside conveys information to us is through the voiceover of a survivor. The voice slowly and calmly recounts what happened during the hurricane. It feels fairly unconventional as it makes us feel like we are with the subject, but we never feel like we are directly being spoken to. Instead we feel like we are in the same room as the subject recounts to an invisible third person. When paired with the imagery, the feeling of pure powerlessness and hopelessness is magnified that much more.

The film has a very basic score that dips in and out of the film to avoid from becoming overbearing and manipulative. On top of this, the film has an atmospheric track that plays throughout, a windy, droning sound that slowly intensifies as the film progresses, which instils a constant feeling of danger—almost as if there were another hurricane that could strike anytime now. Much like the victims, we would be completely powerless to stop this looming threat.

While the film manages to express the sorrow, frustration, and the subsequent physical and emotional trauma felt by the victims, it also manages to inform the audience not only of the true impact of the hurricane but also of a great deal of corruption and government negligence. The bureaucracy both placed little importance on the hurricane before it hit as well as were lacklustre in their recovery efforts in the aftermath. 

Overall, To Calm the Pig Inside by Joanna Vasquez Arong is an incredibly effective documentary that makes the audience feel just as powerful and hopeless like those affected. But it is also an incredible exercise in minimalistic storytelling that leaves a haunting impression on the viewer. 

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