Pisay is a touching coming-of-age film about the experiences of Philippine Science High School students during the 1980’s. Told in a chronological order, with each year of high school focusing on the story of different characters, the film tackles issues like puppy love, academics, activism, friendship, family, and dreams. It also presents realities about the martial law, the bias against the soft sciences and the arts, the working conditions of teachers, the lack of funds for education, the discrimination of ethnic minorities, student bullying, and so on.
Though I did not study in Pisay, I found that I could relate to the characters in the film. The pressure of academics, the pain of seeing friends leave, the uncertainty about what we really want in life—I suppose we’ve all gone through that. And because I was one of those who had once hoped to study in Pisay (and fortunately, did not get in), the film had the added fascination of satiating my curiosity about Pisay life. Frankly, I was awed. The details about the kind of academic work that they had to accomplish, like lab experiments and reports and plays, and the demands and aptitude of their teachers made Pisay life seem so difficult but exciting. The kind of things they did in their reports, like dressing up in ethnic costumes and putting up mini-fireworks shows and creating models of the rice terraces and whatnot were nowhere near what we did in high school. Of course we’d do something like those occasionally, but I cannot say such effort, such excellence, was the norm. The character who impressed me the most was Euri. His plays were so brilliant, it was almost hard to believe they were written and directed by a high school student. I also felt the most sympathy with him, especially when he was torn about his choice for a college course.
With its poignancy, its emphatic portrayal of its characters and their experiences, and its social relevance, Pisay has become one of my favorite films.