by Edith Muleiro
I was only able to see a few movies during my time at the Austin Film Festival, including Yellow Rose which I will be focusing on in this review. Yellow Rose was filmed in Austin, the crowd was full of people that had worked on the film, and it gave me a peek into a level of filmmaking I have rarely experienced. The cinemaphotography of the film, in addition to its dynamism, are used in service to a coming-of-age story of a Filipino girl and her community. The film uses these strategies to depict the difficulties of the immigrant and undocumented experience, as well as the unconventional communities which can form families.
The film was screened in the State Theater in downtown Austin, accompanied by a Q&A with the directors and actors. The ways in which the cast was crafted was an important element of the film. Dale Watson, one of the protagonists of the movie and a prominent country artist in Austin, was one of the panelists. He played the role of himself in the film. In the conversation following the screening, director Diane Paragas said that she essentially just asked “Dale to play Dale.” This use of a untrained actor, seen in Dale and a few other of the cast members, is a pillar of Italian neorealism. As in the great neorealist films of Vittorio De Sica and Frederico Fellini, Yellow Rose succeeds in providing an authentic representation of local Austin characters.
Another important cast member is Princess Punzalan, a well-respected actor in the Philippines. Punzalan’s presence links the film to the Philippines, where part of Yellow Rose was shot . Here one can see another tenant of neorealism: the of “the street as the set.” Considering that this is a low budget film, these deliberate choices emphasize the goal of the director in creating a film which authentically represents both the Texas and the Filipino part of the film and its characters. The Broken Spoke bar is featured as a central location; it is where Rose works, lives, and sings. This honky-tonk holds importance in the Austin scene as well, and reiterates how the director prioritized these representations of her physical identity. Although the film is not strictly neorealist, it does utilize similar stylistic strategies quite effectively.
The context of Yellow Rose is very prominent; namely, the subject of immigration, which is a hot topic in our state of Texas. The shots of Austin will conjure nostalgic feelings for anyone who has spent time in the city, especially those audiences that attended the Austin Film Festival. These contradictory feelings of comfort and nostalgia alongside the hardships reflected in the immigrant narrative created a unique film experience.
In the Q&A, there was a strong message about this film not being political. I felt as though a difference in individual motives may have played a role in my experience of the film. I found myself moving from scenes where Roses mother had just been deported, pleading with her teen daughter to come with her through a detention center phone, to a scene where Rose began recording her music with Dale Watson in his beautiful home. It was difficult at times to internalize what was happening at the same time that Rose was rising to fame. Dynamism is very present in the film in this way, accompanied by Langian shots which feature objects that represent Roses mother. The use of dynamism juxtaposes the basic elements of being a teenage girl against the difficulties of balancing that identity with being an undocumented immigrant.
The cinematography of the film is beautiful. The colors are primarily soft and warm, with a western tinge that evokes Austin in the scenes that accompany Rose through her adventures. These colors serves as a sharp contrast to the scenes that include police raids and the detention centers, further entrenching dynamism in the film’s technical language. These scenes are surrounded by neon lights, sirens, and loud noises, often provoking feelings of anxiety. The violence of the shot in these scenes, reflected through the sharp movements and shaky camera, bring the viewer into a feeling of instability which is characteristic of being undocumented. These scenes then abruptly switch into beautiful shots and warm colors that bring the viewer into a feeling of calm. These contradictory color schemes sit with the viewer throughout the film. Although there is a beautiful and soothing feeling to the mise-en-scène, the issues at hand never feel completely resolved.
Another defining aspect of Yellow Rose is Rose’s music, which often functions as a sound bridge between scenes. Rose’s songwriting shapes the story line but also the soundtrack, almost a reflexive act serving to remind the viewer that they are watching a film. It exists in the story line, in the dialogue, and in the cinematography of the film itself.
Rose herself is in a way a contradiction, living between two worlds which are presented in both the public and private parts of her life. Her music is country, her heritage is Filipino, and she wrestles with this as teenagers do: with rebellion and spirit. In her music this is reflected most clearly, serving as another perspective into her character development. Through her music the viewer understands Rose. In addition to the sounds used, during these scenes the cinematography plays in with the soundtrack to create an element of intimacy with the viewer via close up shots. The director invites us to sit in these contradictions, whether they be through the colors and sounds or her own identity.
Paragas does a beautiful job of representing the many sides of Texan identity, including everyone from Dale Watson to Rose with the Texas sunsets as the backdrop. The dedication of the crew was evident by the mere turnout of those who had worked on the film, and it was a pleasure to view this film during the Austin Film Festival.