REVIEW: When the Storm Fades
dir. Sean Devlin
2018| Canada | 81 mins | PG
When the Storm Fades opens on the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan/Typhoon Yolanda. Rubble and destruction stretch as far as the eye can see. In 2013, 19-foot waves hit the Philippines, washing away life as people knew it. The tropical storm was one of the worst the area has ever seen, but with climate change, these kinds of storms are becoming more common. An audio montage of western news reports narrates what we’re looking at. “It is very, very difficult conditions for people here on the ground,” says one correspondent. “And, it’s not clear how much longer it can continue like this.”
The winds quieted and the rains stopped, but for the Pablo family living in Leyte Island’s Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit cities, the storm still lingers. It’s in the ruins where their sister’s house once stood. It’s in the loss of livelihood, the loss of loved ones, and the traumatic memories. But after the storm, life goes on, and the Pablos persist.
This hybrid film combines documentary with fiction. The Pablo parents and their two children let writer and director Sean Devlin into their lives as they keep living in the shadow of what they’ve lost. It’s no wonder Devlin fell so in love with the family that he had to make a film about them. Beautiful, striking shots of Tacloban and genuine moments with the Pablos are heart-warming and thought-provoking. Nilda’s sister Ida was killed in the storm, and the Pablos are still grappling with their loss. Persisting means moments of grief, but it also consists of the mundane. The rooster still crows every morning, the kettle whistles, and Nilda and her sister Imelda cook lumpia to sell.
Enter Trevor (Aaron Read), and Clare (Kayla Lorette), two voluntourists from Canada. They’re in Tacloban to do good, and to get Instagrammed doing it. In improvised performances, the fictional characters befriend the Pablos and bumble their privileged way through Tacloban.
When juxtaposed, there’s a sense of dissonance between scenes of the Pablos and the scenes with the fictional characters. But it’s a dissonance that makes sense. Trevor and Clare are in Tacloban because of the storm. They mean well, but their homes were not destroyed. They plant mangroves during the day, but make out in karaoke bars at night. Sharing the screen with the warm, real-life Pablos, it makes sense that these foreigners and their brand of “doing good” ring false.
Compared with local activist Marissa Cabaljao (as herself) their efforts seem all the more ineffectual. Cabaljao is protesting foreigners whose good-intentions will put locals out of their homes. This storyline runs alongside the misadventures of Trevor and Clare, underscoring the hubris of white saviours who would be more helpful if they asked the locals what they need, and what they want.