Filipino actors deliver the goods in ‘To the North’

Published December 5, 2022, 8:59 AM

by Rica Arevalo

Soliman Cruz, Bart Guingona, and Noel Sto. Domingo give thrilling performances on international waters

The pandemic has given our “small” actors big roles in the international art film arena. We have Dolly de Leon in Triangle of Sadness, Stefanie Arianne in Plan 75, Chai Fonacier in Nocebo, Nico Antonio in Big Bet!, Perry Dizon in Drive My Car, and the seamen trio of Soliman Cruz, Bart Guingona, and Noel Sto. Domingo in To The North.

‘To The North’ film poster

As QCinema’s closing film, To The North is a dramatic thriller centering on Joel (Cruz) as he tries to save Dumitru, a Romanian stowaway (Nicolai Becker) in a cargo ship manned by Taiwanese Captain Tsai (Alexandre Nguyen).

According to the FAL Convention, a stowaway is a person who boarded the vessel secretly without the consent of the shipowner or any other responsible person and who is found on the ship after it has departed from the port of call or during the unloading process at the port of arrival.

Soliman Cruz and Nikolai Becker

As a practice, if they are found, they are kept in a secure cabin and guarded for the safety of the crew. They must be provided with food and water and treated properly while being investigated and identified.

But on Captain Tsai’s ship, stowaways are thrown over the sea, never to be found again. Joel, a religious man, is bothered by this practice. He tracks down Dumitru and hides him inside the pitch-black engine room. They have instant connection and a common denominator—they both keep the bible in their personal belongings.

Bart Guingona

Joel asks support from his fellow Filipino crew, Allan (Guingona) and Bernardo (Sto. Domingo). They devise a plan on how to deliver food and water to the young Romanian stowaway.

We discover there is a faction between the Taiwanese crew and the Filipino camp even if they party and sing karaoke together. The Taiwanese are considered ruthless while the Filipinos are much friendlier on board.

Captain Tsai already has an inkling that Joel is keeping a stowaway. He gives a convincing pitch why stowaways should not be entertained on the ship because they are a threat to everyone. And he makes sense defining what is good and fair.

Alexandre Nguyen and Soliman

Joel is desperately torn and wants to save Dumitru by letting him jump off the ship en route to the New York City port. But Dumitru has other plans. The cat and mouse game turns to a bloody violent encounter.

With a gun, the Romanian asks Joel if Allan is a Filipino. When he hears no confirmation, he shoots Allan and said, “Your friend tried to kill me.” Joel angrily mourns the death of his kababayan. He condemns the Romanian by saying, “You will die.”

Dumitru just smiles, continues to narrate the beautiful life he will have in this new country, and answers back: “Today, I arrive.” Amigo becomes a contradicting word that has a different meaning now for Joel. 

Director Mihai Mincan gives us the points of view of all the characters—Romanians, Filipinos, and Taiwanese. We begin to understand their plight. With each tight close up shot, the audience experiences a powerful chase of good versus evil accompanied by Bible verses.

No doubt Soliman’s quiet and reserved portrayal of his secret mission is his ticket to redemption, giving him a worthy exposure in the international film scene. Based on real events that happened in 1996,  To The North competed at the 79th Venice Film Festival Orizzonti section.