A scene taken from Isda (Fable of the fish). One of the Philippines' entries at this year's Dubai International Film Festival (Diff). Image Credit: Supplied

I didn't know what to expect as I stood in queue for an extra ticket for my companion on Saturday's first screening of Isda (Fable of the fish), one of the Philippines' entries at this year's Dubai International Film Festival (Diff).

Fifteen minutes before the start of screening and there was still a queue — I thought, hey, not a bad sign.

So after everyone received their last chance tickets, we made our way to the theatre, where we got another surprise — Cherry Pie Picache, Anita Linda and director-producer Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr were in the house.

Lights dimmed. The din quieted down and a blank screen played for an eternity. Then, Picache, who plays the simple, provincial Lina, appeared on the screen. Or rather, a reflection of her innocent face on a vehicle's side mirror. The camera pans out and we see that she is in a dilapidated jeepney — it is the day she and her husband, Miguel, move to the city for a new life.

New life turns out to be the dumps, quite literally, as the couple find themselves in the middle of Manila's dump site, where they live and breathe garbage, which is also their source of income as they join the area's scavengers for scraps to sell.

I held my breath at the beautiful cinematography of the filthy dump site and the lives that refuse to give up in Catmon, Manila, where the movie was filmed.

The story reaches a crescendo when the childless couple find out that Lina is expecting a child, despite her advanced age. And then the shocker: In the middle of a storm, their shanty half-submerged in murky floodwater, Lina gives birth — to a fish.

Surreal moments unfold as Lina expresses her love for her fish-son. She talks to it. Lovingly caresses the small fishbowl that is its house. You find yourself torn between the surrealism and realism of the scenes.

There are plenty of films screening at Diff, but this one was quite a catch.

Meet the stars and director

What inspired you to create this movie?

Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr: My screenwriter came up with the concept, after news came out in the Philippines of a woman who gave birth to a baby who looked like a fish. So I thought of bringing the idea to life.

Was it a challenge to make?

Alix: It's difficult to balance everything since it's a surreal story but with real qualities. But this is where the power of cinema helps — we can make people believe.

Where did you find motivation for the acting?

Cherry Pie Picache: When I first read the material, I thought I should try to do it as real as possible. I wanted the audience to think if [Lina] really believed that her child is a fish but at the same time to think if she was really out of her mind. My director and I were on the same track, and we had the same outlook on how I should play the role.

What kind of difficulties did you face?

Picache: It was really difficult especially when I played with the fish. I would laugh in the middle of a take because I was playing with the fish and calling it my son.

Evelyn Vargas: I treated it like a true story. In the process, the direction was so natural. I went with the flow, even though it was really difficult to be in that condition.

What kind of fish was used in this film?

Alix: I wanted to shoot with a milkfish, but it was very difficult to bring a milkfish to the shoot. So we used something that looked similar. It's called a bala shark. It lives in both fresh water and sea water.

Picache: It's a beautiful fish. Did you see the fin?