Review of La Visa Loca
La Visa Loca tells of the saga of Jess Huson for an American visa. Jess, a tourist car driver, has been repeatedly denied in his applications for a U.S. visa. Wanting to go to the U.S. to marry a girlfriend already working there as a nurse, and—like all dreams of overseas contract workers—to better off the family condition in the Philippines, Jess allows himself to be periodically subjected to intense moments of anxiety in his applications. With a diabetic father and the general worsening conditions in the country, Jess sees no future other than migrating to the U.S. In fact, he has already taken a course in care-giving, a boom industry for Filipinos wanting to work overseas.
In an emergency trip to the hospital to bring in his father who was experiencing difficulty in breathing, Jess reunites with a former girlfriend who brought in an asthmatic son. Jess eventually finds out that the child is his, and this complicates further his American dream. He now shuttles Nigel Adams, the international host of Planet Strange, a television series focusing on absurd and odd events worldwide.
Nigel is having difficulty finding leads in the country, as all his leads are soon discovered to be fakes. Jess suggests that they do the show on people getting nailed on the cross on Good Friday. Nigel reworks the suggestion and decides to focus on just one person. Jess is tasked to locate a suitable person in exchange for working papers to support his next visa application. When he does find one, the guy disappears unceremoniously on the date itself, taking with him Nigel’s full payment. Pressed for time, and with all hopes pinned on delivering on his promise, Jess volunteers to be nailed on the cross.
La Visa Loca traces the saga of some eight million Filipinos working as overseas contract workers (OCWs)—the extent they would go through to get their Filipino dream realized. As the primordial story is patterned on the passion and death of Christ, the most familiar narrative in a predominantly Catholic nation, Jess’ saga, like all quests of OCWs, begins with a desire to better the living conditions of family members in the country by acting as sacrificial lambs. The saga begins with this domestic desire, and the getting of the visa becomes the most important symbol of this access to a transnational social mobility.
The visa, after all, in Filipino translation is bisa, meaning potency and efficacy. The film is rich in recurring quests for symbols of everyday potency—anting-anting (amulets) and mediums of the Virgin Mary and Santo Niño (Child Jesus) in Nigel’s quest for authentic local oddities, viagra in Jess’ father’s attempt to deal with the waning of sex drive in diabetis, education in Jess’ child’s desire to belong with his peers, radio talk shows mediating between hosts and phone-in callers, nailing of people on the cross interceding the individual’s need with the higher being, and even the iconic star power of Robin Padilla playing an average guy, among others. What the title suggests is that the quest for the visa and its imbibed potency has reached the status of chaotic madness, as all desire is materialized through potent symbols of everyday life and of achieving the Filipino dream.
However, the film is not signifying the ordinary dream. In the film’s end, Jess gets his visa but chooses not to leave his father and his newly found family. This means that Jess has achieved a luxurious position which the majority of the great mass of OCW bodies does not have—a choice to leave or not. Jess has imbibed the middle class consciousness, choosing domestic unity in the end, even as the transnational overseas dream has already reworked and retransformed the Filipino family in various ways. After all, Jess could already afford the high cost of medication for his father’s diabetis, or spend stolen quality time with his newly found family. He can opt not to leave, which remains a luxury for the great tide of movement among the rests of OCWs imagined to have Jess’ familiar story.
La Visa Loca is a story that only resonates of the vast majority’s story. It is then recasts in Jess’ own story, or the middle class own saga. The unraveling of Jess’ class position is told without apologies in the film, creating, like the realization of Jess’ own choice, a nostalgia for the Filipino family in the age of diaspora. This nostalgia resurfaces amidst the constant movement of people, as those that chose to move and move on, reconstitute the nostalgia in other ways: the balikbayan o gigantic boxes of goodies, phone cards and cell phones, internet, even letters, and of course, the $12 billion dollar remittances annually.
The film is well made, the story stark, and the cinematography and editing brisk with lush continuing symbols of hope and aspiration. It is a creative pursuit that has consolidated into a provocative film of the Filipino class’ bifurcated dreams of transnational mobility: to move on for the underclass, and to have a choice for the middle class. The seriousness of this issue is sanctioned by the light comic treatment in the script. In one scene, which is part of the fantasy of revenge of Filipinos, the Filipino consul officer parodies the counterpart in the U.S. embassy, feverishly denying all the foreigner’s applications.
La Visa Loca provides the necessary pause and illumination of the heightened Filipino diasporic time.