Boy From Nowhere

SJ Finlay’s bleak drama never shies from horrible truths, but doesn’t wallow either.

“If you want to be a warrior, then follow me in planting crops.”

I’m always a bit nervous going into a strongly political film with little knowledge of the topic of discussion, especially when the topic in question is something as serious as Boy From Nowhere. So it’s a relief when they clue you in early on and give you the context necessary. The opening text here kindly lets the audience in on the main conflict of the film: the island of Mindanao, in southern Philippines, is rich with natural resources that the government is keen to get its hands on, even if it means displacing entire tribes. Rebel groups have sprung up in resistance to this, with some even resorting to child soldiers.

 It’s in the middle of this conflict that we find our main character, Gary (Gary Jumawan), a young boy who lives with his tribe in the city of Davao. When Gary’s village is burnt down and he loses his family, he decides to travel to his mother’s Talaandig tribe. Along the way he encounters wayward youth and gang member Nack Nack (Ronald Abugan), who takes Gary under his wing. Despite his rough appearance, Nack Nack looks after Gary, but it isn’t long until they are forcefully recruited into the social war that rages around them.

At its core, Boy From Nowhere is a political film – one that seeks to highlight not just injustices to local landowners, but more importantly the toll this war is having on the populace. It’s also a film about the people who are caught up in the middle of it, the “lumads” who are simply trying to raise crops, feed their families, and live. The people whose lives are upended when their homes are taken and their children converted into fodder for the rebel groups. SJ Finlay’s documentary sensibilities are one the film’s stronger aspects, offering an unbiased view that criticises the government’s taking of land and resources, but also the rebel’s often desperate methods of fighting back.

There’s a realism at play here. Finlay brings his experience in documentary filmmaking to Boy from Nowhere, and it’s a style that greatly benefits it. You find out at the end that Gary and Nack Nack are in fact real people, not just characters, though it’s not made very clear just how much of their story is fabricated. The combination well, though, as the narrative and focus on a single central character helps drive both its point and its story to their natural, inevitable conclusions.

The star of the show is naturally Gary, whose ability to endear himself to everyone he sees is what keeps him alive throughout each tragedy. His childlike wonder, innocence, and determination allows him to befriend most anyone he meets, and it’s through these people that his journey winds up ending well – or as well as it could, given the circumstances.

There’s a lot to unpack in Boy From Nowhere, and it’s impressive how much of Gary’s story is told without it seeming rushed. Instead, it smoothly glides from one part of Gary’s life to another without lingering for too long in any one place. It’s in the final few minutes that the movie’s message is spelled loud and clear – that there are other ways to fight for your country, to protect the ones you love. In his mother’s tribe, the people don’t want to participate in the bloodshed. Instead, they’re happy to provide crops to those in need.

In the end, Boy From Nowhere is optimistic. Gary’s good nature shines through, as it does throughout the entire film. There’s a reason he’s able to befriend as many people as he does. If he represents the future of the Philippines, Finlay posits that, while brutal struggles may be necessary to protect what one loves, the future is with those who are willing to grow with their country.

Verdict: Burdened with a heavy subject matter, Boy From Nowhere nevertheless deftly mixes serious political commentary with the slightest hint of hopefulness.

Overall entertainment: 8/10
Violence: 5/10
Sex: 0/10
Human connections: 10/10
Karaoke song of choice: Climb of every mountain
Facebook: Where you go to see girls, of course

Boy From Nowhere (2023)

Director: SJ Finlay


Gary Jumawan – Gary
Ronald Abugan – Nack Nack
Balugto Marcelino Necosia – Commander
Datu Migketay Victorino Saway – Chief


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