Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Desertion (Dubai)

Jason P. Jacobo

How dry can a film shot in a desert city be?

Take away the setting, and Dubai’s story is staple love triangle: two brothers (Aga Muhlach and John Lloyd Cruz), the woman who comes in between (Claudine Baretto), and the sacrifices each must offer to love and live!

Director Rory Quintos should have learned from the blunders of her colleague Olivia Lamasan, whose concept of doing a Filipino production in Milan was making her characters speak, eat, wear things Italian! What we are saying here is the film fails to play out its setting as the ground of conflict. And we only know it’s Dubai we’re seeing on screen because of the obligatory sequence where John Lloyd tours himself around the First World cityscape. Had the producers thought well of their project, they would have had better use of their capital by shooting in Ilocos. Anyway, what they wanted was just desert.

Our audiences have yet to see a competent love-in-the-time-of-diaspora film. Sana Maulit Muli (an Olivia Lamasan work) could have just been the piece, save for the last scene where Lea Salonga, after going through all the works of the American cosmopolis, becomes Dalagang Filipina all over again. But unlike Lamasan, Quintos (es)chews politics. Remember that nationalist discourse amid dayami in the Bicolanesquery that was Kailangan Kita? Well, she does it again in Dubai, with a little help from Ricky Lee’s laborious labor rhetoric. And this time, in a wedding banquet hosted by the Aga Muhlach, the mouthpiece of overseas Filipino work.
But in an attempt to give the film its due credit, we still ask “Why Dubai, of all places in the ‘Middle East?’” Why not depict Filipinos struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives in post-Saddam Baghdad? What’s so particular about Dubai? Is it the prospect of striking gold in that wealthy state that gilds a character’s dreams with so much hope as well as regret? Or is it the co-existence of “tradition and modernity,” as city publicist Michael de Mesa would claim? If so, can we really see the cohabitation in the menage-a-trois? How strange can the bedfellows be? Just because they are family?

While the sensitive viewer may see the possibilities of the said themes in the film, the apparent drabness in the style cannot lead her to a clear understanding of the director’s vision, if she is indeed capable of it. In a Quintos production, never hope to see an object transformed into a symbol nor an image. Let’s just take her word for it—a desert is a desert is a desert.

Nonetheless Dubai is not all sand in John Lloyd Cruz. Like any other Lee character, John Lloyd’s is traumatized, because of a series of losses which causes an unrealized sense of self/personhood: the mother leaves him for Canada, dies there; then his elder brother tries his luck in the Middle East. In Dubai, Cruz is made to confront the neurosis of infantilism in a triangulation of desire, where he fails, but nevertheless emerges as a survivor, with his heart still in the right place. What is astounding here is how Cruz sheds light on the Oedipal conflict with so much daring in spite of an innocence that insists on its glare on the one hand and a self-knowledge that casts its shadow on the other. The maturity Cruz displays in this role may not be as quiet as Trillo’s or as determined as Rosales’s, but this Dubai performance secures his position as an actor of his time, an arrival long awaited yet still sighted—like that of a true oasis.

(Appeared in Young Critics Circle Film Desk’s Sine-Sipat: Recasting Roles and Images-Stars, Awards and Criticism for 2005, March 2006)

1 comment:

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