Sunday, December 7, 2008
Romansa sa mga Pampublikong Espasyo
Ni Galileo S. Zafra
Isang romantikong pelikula ang Ikaw Lamang Hanggang Ngayon. Kuwento
ito ni Katherine, isang empleado sa Manila Post Office.
Kasingrutinaryo ng kanyang trabaho ang kanyang buhay: papasok sa
trabaho, magsasalansan ng sulat, sasagot sa mga tawag sa telepono,
manananghalian sa isang bangko sa parke sa tapat ng gusali, at sa
gabi, uuwi sa bahay. Mahiyain, takot sa tao, walang tiwala sa sarili
si Katherine. Ang malungkot niyang buhay ay hindi itinatago ng
kaniyang anyo: nakasuot ng malaking salamin, mukhang matanda kung
manamit, laging tulala. Isang araw, nang manananghalian siya,
matatapon ang kaniyang pagkain. Gagamitin niya ang tinidor para
ukitin sa bangko ang mga salitang “Malungkot ang buhay ko.”
Isang makisig na golf instructor, si Ryan, ang mauupo sa bangko.
Mababasa niya ang inukit ni Katherine at susundan niya ito ng tanong
na “Bakit?” Kabaligtaran ni Katherine, exciting ang buhay ni Ryan.
Dahil sa kaniyang high profile na trabaho, marami siyang nakikilang
babae at nakakarelasyon. Subalit tulad ni Katherine, malungkot din si
Ryan. Nararamdaman niyang handa na siyang pakasal ngunit hindi pa
niya mahanap ang kanyang gustong makatuluyan.
Magtatagpo at magkakakilala ang dalawa nang minsan, isang gabing
umuulan, magkakasabay silang sumakay sa iisang taxi. Hindi nila alam
na sila ang nagpapalitan ng maiikling sulat sa bangko, ngunit simula
sa maulang gabi ng kanilang pagtatagpo, bubukal ang isang maarugang
pagmamahalan. Kahit simpleng babae si Katherine, makikita ni Ryan ang
kaniyang ganda sa labas at sa loob. Mabubuo ang tiwala sa sarili ni
Katherine dahil mayroon nang nakapansin sa gandang kanyang itinatago.
Kung tutuusin, tulad ng pangunahing tauhang babae, napakakaraniwan at
madaling hulaan ng pelikula. Pinalaki tayo sa kuwento tungkol sa
simpleng babae na mamahalin sa bandang huli ng makisig na lalaki
dahil taglay niya ang malinis na puso at dalisay na pagkatao.
Subalit hindi lamang sa naratibo masusumpungan ang kuwento ng
pelikula. Ginamit nito ang kapangyarihan ng pelikula bilang biswal na
midyum at kinasangkapan ang mga pamamaraan at estratehiya ng
sinematograpiya upang gawing pelikula ito ng mga karakter at lunan,
ng tao at espasyo. Hinuli ng masinop at mahusay na sinematograpiya
hindi lamang ang salaysay ng pag-ibig nina Katherine at Ryan, kundi
pati ang mga makasaysayan at lumilikha-ng-kasaysayang pampublikong
espasyo ng Maynila: ang episyenteng LRT na naghahatid-sundo sa mga
pasahero, ang mataong simbahan ng Quiapo, ang buhay na buhay na
eskinita ng mga pangunahing lansangan ng Maynila, ang makakapal at
matitipunong pader ng Intramuros, ang makapangyarihan at matitikas na
poste ng gusali ng Post Office, ang maalamat na tulay ng Ayala habang
binabaybay ang maalamat na Ilog Pasig, at ang romantikong Liwasang
Bonifacio (dating Plaza Lawton).
Ang mga ritwal mulang pagkakaibigan hanggang pag-iibigan nina
Katherine at Ryan ay naganap sa mga espasyong ito: ang pag-ukit ng
kalungkutan at pag-iisa sa mga bangko ng Liwasan, ang aksidental
nilang pagkikilala sa sakayan ng taxi, ang muli nilang pagtatagpo sa
harap ng simbahan ng Quiapo, ang pagdalaw ni Ryan kay Katherine sa
gusali ng Post Office, ang pagpapalalim ng kanilang relasyon,
paghihiwalay at muling pagkakasundo sa Liwasan. Sa mga situwasyong
ito, ang pampublikong espasyo ay hindi lamang mga lugar na tinatayuan
o nilalakaran, kundi mga lunan kung saan ang mga tao ay pinagtatagpo
at ang mga ugnayan ay binubuo.
Ipinakikita ng pelikula na ang mga pampublikong espasyo ay mga bukas
na lugar na may buhay at may kasaysayan na hindi hiwalay sa buhay at
kasaysaysan ng mga taong dito ay dumaraan at nananahan. Isang ironiya
na ang pelikulang isinadula sa Maynila ay maaaring magsilbi kapwa
bilang pagkilala, gayundin, ng pagtuligsa sa pamahalaang lokal na
puspusang nagpapatupad ng mga infraestrukturang proyekto sa ngalan ng
kaunlaran. Ginawa at ipinalabas ang pelikula sa panahong
nagbabagong-bihis ang lungsod ng Maynila para sa kampanya ng
kasalukuyang pamunuan ng lungsod na buhaying muli ang dating
kadakilaan ng Maynila. Ang pelikula sa gayon ay parangal, kundi man,
propaganda pa nga, sa ganitong kampanya. Ngunit sa kabilang banda,
nagtatanong at nanghahamon din ito. Ilang buwan bago ang pelikula,
kinuwestiyon ng mga art conservationist ang proyekto para sa urban
renewal ng pamahalaang lungsod. Tinutulan nila ang pagwasak sa isang
makasaysayang landmark sa Taft Avenue, ang Jai Alai Building, na
pagtatayuan ng Hall of Justice ng Maynila. Ang gusali na itinayo
noong dekada 1930 ay saksi sa maraming mahahalagang pagtitipon lalo
ng mayayamang pamilya at siyang natitirang art deco building sa bansa
kundi man sa buong Asya. Ang pelikulang nagsasadula ng pagbubuo ng
personal na kasaysayan sa pampublikong espasyo, kung gayon, ay
paalaala rin na may panlipunang kasaysayang binubuo sa at binubuo ng
mga pampublikong espasyo.
Sa pagtatapos ng pelikula, magtatagpong muli sina Katherine at Ryan
na pansamantalang pinaglayo ng pagdududa sa sarili at pag-aagam-agam
sa hinaharap ng kanilang relasyon. Nalutas sa pelikula ang mga
kontradiksiyon ng mga personal na ugnayan. Ngunit ang mismong
pelikula ring ito ang nagtatampok ng di natatapos na mga tunggalian
ng mga may magkakaibang interes sa lipunan, ng usapin ng modernidad
at ng mga pinangangalagaang espasyo ng ating buhay.
The Spirit of Voice By Patrick D. Flores
In Mga Munting Tinig, directed by Gil M. Portes, a young teacher,
brimming with idealism, plays the role of a messianic reformer in a
remote town, but walks away from the middle-class sojourn chastened
by the realization that the work of civil society is bound to fail if
it merely foists its vision of change on passive people perceived to
be needing relief. The film resists the temptation to promote a
panacea of social ills. Rather, it intimates a keen analysis of the
social condition of a milieu wracked by corruption, insurgency, and
the seduction of flight. Arising from this commentary is the
well-considered effort to recover the repressed voice of potential
change through music, an allegory of art as an agent of
transformative expression that is collectively performed as a choir
The tendency for this type of film is to subscribe to what can be
called the “primitive imaginary” in which the reformer-or perhaps,
the reformist-descends on a savage territory in order to colonize it.
Such disposition is clearly imperialist in orientation as it pursues
the trajectory of development as the privileged strategy of progress.
What emerges from this sort of project is a neo-liberal
interpretation of inequity and its solution. The people pictured as
requiring liberation or amelioration, or in some cases even humanity,
are nearly catatonic and merely wait for benevolence to endow them
with intelligibility as subjects of a domain. The film Mga Munting
Tinig departs from this convenient practice by:
investing its heroine not with the full and complete rationality of a
redeemer, but with an enabling ambivalence that allows her to, on the
one hand, doubt her own place in the setting and, on the other, to
act on the condition before her in the manner that her experience
predisposes her. In the end, person and place, self and other
mutually change each other;
putting in place a dialectic that analyzes social reality as at once
a corrupted condition and a transformable possibility. In this
situation, the idealism of the heroine is undercut as an illusion by
a jaded, but nevertheless sensible, colleague, who in turn opens
herself up to a revision of consciousness. This dialectic, or
reflexive reflection, is important to scan the contradictions of
milieu and to probe the context of whatever human action plays out.
Without such dynamic, which eludes some films which dare to tackle
historical reality of epochal significance, all manner of practice is
ultimately facile, sterile, and anomalous; and
rendering the voice as a vital agent in the articulation of
difference, the engagement with a higher force, and the summoning of
a spirit that transcends the limitations of official speech,
comfortable silence, or conspiratorial cacophony. In this scenario,
the recovery of voice in the context of a coming together in a
community that is the choir transposes into some allegory of art as
an interventive gesture of affective power.
A film nourished by this premise cannot fail. The personas of
teachers are rounded out. Students are located in the thicket of
social struggle as apt pupils, children of the revolution, and
singers of their songs. And society is a charged terrain of armed
revolt, State control, tutelage, and resistance. Direction,
screenplay, cinematography and visual design, editing, sound, and the
performance of a sensitive cast contribute to the comprehensive
competence of Mga Munting Tinig.
Diskarte Ni Ariel N. Valerio
Halimbawa ng isang well-made film ang Diskarte. Kumpleto sa
rekado-sandakot na sex, kumukulong aksyon, isang kutsarang luha,
tatlong kutsaritang romansa, isang kurot na komedi. Tinimpla at
niluto ayon sa panlasa ng Hollywood. Pinakete para sa takilya ng mga
sinehan sa Pilipinas.
Walang duda, natugunan ng Diskarte ang mga teknikal na rekisito ng
Masinop at sadya ang editing. Naikamada ang mga eksena nang walang
sinasayang na sandali sa pagpapaigting ng aksyon. Gumugol ng panahon
upang bumabad sa mga erotikong tagpo, alinsunod sa tinataya nitong
kahingian ng manonood.
Kapansin-pansin din ang bihasang paglalapat ng musika at tunog.
Bihirang gamitin ang opera sa pelikulang lokal. Subalit sa Diskarte,
ilang beses narinig ang makabasag-salaming tinig ng koloratura-habang
nagtatalik sina Jake (Rudy Fernandez) at Amanda (Ara Mina), habang
nagpapakamatay si Col. Montero (Tirso Cruz III), at habang
nakikipagpatayan si Jake sa mga kasapi ng sindikato ng droga.
Sa madaling sabi, tinangka ng Diskarte na maging mahusay na pelikula.
Ngunit malaking katanungan kung sapat na ang technical competence
upang matawag na mahusay ang isang pelikula. Kung matawag mang
mahusay, ano ang halaga nito sa manonood?
Pampalipas-oras? Libangan? Tapyas ng buhay? Repleksyon ng realidad?
Kritik ng lipunan?
Sa unang tingin, tinangka ng Diskarte na magbigay ng kritik sa
lipunang Pilipino sa pamamagitan ng pagtuligsa sa militar bilang
lunsaran ng katiwalian at, kung gayon, ng panlipunang diskurso.
Matalas ang patutsada nito kay Col. Montero bilang “hari ng droga.”
Kasabwat ang mga sindikato, ginamit niya ang mataas na posisyon sa
pulisya upang humamig ng limpak-limpak na salapi. Pero mahina pala
ang dibdib kaya nang madiskartehan ni Jake na ipahuli, ipalitis at
parusahan ng batas, nang-agaw siya ng baril at pinasabog ang sariling
Nakapanghihinayang. Hindi si Col. Montero kundi ang nabilasang
pagtatangka tungo sa panlipunang kritik. Maaaring ipagpalagay na sa
pagkawala ni Col. Montero, malinis na muli ang militar. Ganoon lang
kasimple ang problema-may ilang indibidwal na naliligaw ng landas.
Nasa serbisyong militar din dati ang grupo ni Jake. Ipinaghiganti
niya ang asawang pinaslang ng sindikato. Nabilanggo siya at natanggal
Kakatwang hindi nakulong o nalitis ang mga sibilyang kasapi ng
sindikato. Sa halip, kailangan silang lipulin ng mga taong tulad ni
Jake na may matinding personal na galit sa kanila. Bakit hindi sila
pinarusahan ng batas? Dahil hawak daw ng tagapagpatupad ng batas
tulad ni Col. Montero. Nang magpakamatay ang numero unong
tagapagtanggol ng sindikato, tinapos na ang kwento.
Kailangang tapusin ang kwento sa yugtong iyon dahil delikado na ang
susunod na hakbang-ilantad ang katiwalian sa militar bilang
sistematikong panlilinlang sa taumbayan. Hindi ito sinugba ng
pelikula. Sa halip, pinanatiling malinis ang institusyon ng militar
maliban sa ilang indibidwal na batik sa serbisyo. Nabigo ang Diskarte
na tuligsain ang institusyong tinutukan ng kritik nito at sa gayon,
nakabig ng dominanteng propaganda ng estado ang pelikula.
Iyon ang diskarte nila kaya pasensya na lang ang manonood kung
patuloy na mambibiktima sa lipunan ang mga galamay ng panlilinlang.
By Patrick D. Flores
If only for its queer and quirky appeal, the news that the director
and a financier of one of the films that competed at the recent Metro
Manila Film Festival are suing the jury of the competition on the
grounds of artistic misrecognition merits a once-over. It could be
dismissed, of course, as just another turn in the silly routine in
the business, but this particular case leads to an interesting
paradox. We remember that the Festival was heralded by a controversy
having to do with the manner in which the entries would be selected,
and it expectedly culminated in an awarding ceremony marred by
walkouts, production glitches, sour graping, and the proliferation of
bad taste. Still and all, its chieftains gloat that the Festival
raked in a lot of profits. Between criteria and cash, it is obvious
which one is paramount.
The crux of the problem at the outset pertained to rules and how they
were, let us say, modified to accommodate certain vested interests.
These were guidelines set by the organizers, who unfortunately found
themselves incapable of strictly abiding by them. With such infirmity
and lack of moral nerve defining the tone of the Festival, it came as
no surprise that the jury, unremarkable by all indications, would be
hailed to court for not honoring one film, which is made to appear as
an important motion picture on Philippine history, and for
complimenting others which, as the spin goes, dwell too generously on
the Chinese and the razzle-dazzle of visual effects. The aggrieved
film is Lapu Lapu, whose hero undoubtedly is of stalwart spirit,
being the slayer of the first person to circumnavigate the globe.
Many doubt, however, if the film may share the same stance of
It is, therefore, worth thinking about how a community that trifles
with the policy it prescribes could possibly come before the
institutions of the law with clean hands, and consequently subject
itself to regulation. Such disrepute carries weight. In fact, much of
the fear of government in letting the industry police its own ranks,
which incidentally is propped up as an argument against censorship,
stems from the perception that it simply cannot be governed, or that
it cannot govern itself, at least. The scenario occasioned by the
Festival offers yet another evidence that the film establishment and
the sector it represents do not only glorify outlaws in their
merchandise; they also prosper in a state of lawlessness. This proves
to be doubly worrisome because the captain of the Festival’s ship was
both an elected official of a city known for dirty politics and a
movie actor of meager credentials. Or, on second thought, does this
vital detail actually sort it all out?
The foreign press has cited this sense of general lawlessness
prevailing in the country as one of the burdens wearying the
President, an impediment to the strong republic that she envisions
and a reason to sacrifice her political ambitions. Many of the action
films released last year render this lawlessness visual and
cinematically ubiquitous. Consider how the following titles allude to
the usurpation of the powers of the State to dispense swift and
inexorable justice: Bro, Kahit Saan Enkwentro; Batas ng Lansangan;
Hari ng Selda-Anak ni Baby Ama 2; Pistolero; Sabayan sa Laban;
Hanggang Kailan Ako Papatay Para Mabuhay; and Hula Mo, Huli Ko. It
may seem on the surface of this rhetoric that government has ceased
to monopolize the instruments of violence and that violence has
reached a point of excess that is beyond measure. On closer look,
however, we glean from these stories how the military structure, or
the bureaucracy of government in general, is implicated in the
creation of this condition at the same time that it is also viewed as
being responsible for peace and order.
The film Diskarte, directed by the well-known film editor Edgardo
Vinarao, is able to acutely depict this taxing situation. The plot
revolves around a big drug deal that is intercepted by a band of
police scalawags. The operation is, however, hijacked within the ring
by a double crosser who had wished to reap everything for himself.
The brains of the syndicate, who is likewise hoodwinked, is an
official of the force whose role in the massive network of organized
crime is exposed in the end.
The film redeems the genre from its stock methods by presenting a
complicated social reality the way it knows best. Central here are
the concept of crime and the system that allows it to be committed
systematically and, as we realize soon enough, systemically.
Well-directed and well-made on the whole, though not without its
totally understandable compromises, Diskarte comes at a time when
critics have almost given up on a genre that is held hostage by the
spectacle of fire power, the obsession with ammunition, and the
prowess of the male hero. It reminds us of an earlier Rudy
Fernandez-starrer Romy Suzara’s Pepeng Shotgun and Jose Antonio
Perez’s Mumbaki. While it strays from established norms of mainstream
storytelling, it still significantly subscribes to the action
narrative. The rare effort thoughtfully locates “action” as a social
process that arises from the tension between the control of the
institutions, on the one hand, and the struggle of the ruled to
challenge the very claim to power, on the other.
The action film, therefore, is more than just car chases, blasts, and
exchange of gunfire. It is about violence in society and the heroism
that must be mustered to overcome it. It is also about the futility
of putting too much faith in the law, which has become increasingly
indistinguishable from crime. When last week a cluster of houses was
raided by the police for illegal electric connections, it was
reported that the Barangay Captain himself was one of the violators;
he maintained a car wash service and a gym through such ingenious
means. In the midst of terrorist threats, road rage, hazing in a
military academy, and everyday tragedies, we cannot help waging an
infinite number of “just wars” just to preserve ourselves. And we as
a desperate people are no strangers to these transgressions and
instances of exception; we liberally depose leaders and always
exercise our so-called rights whenever the enjoyment of our
convenience is threatened. Surely, in our times, action is nothing
but “taking liberties” and something like diskarte: a stroke, a modus
operandi, an exit strategy. (Reprinted from Manila Standard)
Babasaging Daigdig sa Itlog
Ni Romulo P. Baquiran Jr.
Umaasa ang katinuan ng tao sa makataong pagtrato mula sa kapwa, lalo
na sa pinakamalapit na kaanak at kaibigan-ama, anak, at kasintahan.
Sa marupok na pag-iral ng ibat’ibang pagmamahal at paggalang, ang
pinakamatinding banta ay nagmumula rin sa mismong nagsasagawa ng mga
pagpapahalagang ito. Sa daigdig na nabuo sa Itlog, ang ugnayang
ama-anak na nakasalikop rin sa karupukan ng ugnayang tao-sa-tao ay
nabigyan ng masalimuot na pagsasapelikula.
Mumurahing sex-drama ang pagpapakete sa Itlog (sa titulo pa lang)
ngunit ang produksiyon ni Jun Posadas at Romy Vitug sa iskrip ni
Gerry Arcega-Gracio ay lumilikha ng mga signifikasyong makabuluhan
lalo pa sa ganitong genre. Sa pelikula, ginalugad ang isyu kung sino
ang makapagbibigay ng tunay na pagmamahal? Ang sariling anak o ang
sampid? At mapapalitaw sa dramatikong paraan ang pagtugon sa temang
ito, sabay ng pagtaliwas sa de-kahong karakterisasyon. Alibugha ang
tunay na anak na si Eric (Rodel Velayo), mabait na ama si Tonio
(Celso Ad. Castillo), at gustong magbagong-buhay ang ex-convict na si
Dennis (Winston Elizalde).
Sabik sa pagmamahal ng ulirang anak si Tonio kaya laking tuwa niya
nang makatagpo ang bagong laya at estrangherong si Dennis nang siya’y
atakehin sa puso minsang nagmamaneho patungo sa bayan. Iniligtas ng
estranghero ang kanyang buhay. At bilang ganti, kinuha niya itong
katulong sa itikan. Unti-unti, dahil sa kabutihang loob na nabuo sa
kanila, halos tunay na anak na ang turing ni Tonio kay Dennis.
Samantala, nagtungo sa lungsod si Eric dahil kinamumuhian ang gawain
sa itikan. Pinangarap nitong makapag-artista. Ngunit walang nangyari
sa pangarap at bumalik sa lalawigan kasama ang bagong nobyang hangad
maangkin ang yaman ng pamilya. Magiging komplikado pa ang pangyayari
dahil naakit si Dennis sa batang asawa (Diana Zubiri) ni Tonio na
nagbalak ding makuha ang kayamanan ng matanda. Sa wakas, nasira ang
lahat ng makataong ugnayan dahil sa pagkatukso sa salapi at sa tawag
Ang daloy ng naratibo ay angkop na nailatag ng pelikula. Ang galaw ng
buhay sa itikan ay mahigpit at natural na naiugnay sa tunggalian at
karakterisasyong tinutumbok ng paksa. Naibunyag kung gayon ang mga
pagkatao ng mga protagonista sa paraang sikolohiko at
kapani-paniwala. Sa Itlog, hindi bulagsak at lantarang manipulado ang
pangyayari at tauhan para lamang maitanghal ang mahahalay na tagpo.
Hindi tulad sa ibang pelikulang sex-drama, kung saan higit na
mahalaga ang pagtatatanghal ng katawan ng mga bold star, dito’y
masasabing may balanseng naisakatuparan. Habang hindi naman lumalabas
sa genre na kinabibilangan ang Itlog, lumilikha rin ito ng mga
pakahulugan na siya namang ikinauungos nito bilang pelikula.
At hindi matatawaran ang pagganap bagama’t hindi pumapailanlang ang
mga ito sa kaganapan ng sining. Maliban na lamang kay Celso Ad.
Castillo na nailahok sa nominado. Naging kapansin-pansin ang simple
ngunit malalim niyang pagdulog sa kahingian ng papel na kanyang
Patunay lamang ang pelikula sa kasabihan sa industriya na ang husay
ng alinmang produksiyon ay nagsisimula sa konsepto: sa iskrip. At ang
husay ng iskrip ay lalo lamang lilitaw kung mahusay ang produksiyon.
Turning a New Leaf
By Patrick D. Flores
Uro de la Cruz’s Buko Pandan opens with a winding road that leads its
audiences through the heartland of Southern Tagalog, coconut country
of lush vegetation that glistens in the drizzle. A jeepney takes a
young woman to a remote neighborhood of tall plants and cool springs,
where she casts off a prisoner’s garb into the current of its storied
The film is marketed as being of the bold genre, and certain
conventions and codes bear this intention out. The evocation itself
of a milieu blessed by bounty and relatively unspoiled by the
corruption of the city and its mores builds up the image of a
virginal domain waiting to be explored and consequently ravaged by
the prurient eyes of the camera. But formula is one thing, and
expression is another. A certain style of filmmaking, based on genre
or other considerations, is taken as any distinct mode of creating
form in film, and it is made possible only against a background of
options that makes a particular choice significant, meaningful, and
therefore recognizable stylistically. Film artists work within these
possibilities in the process of making art, but are never limited to
custom and habit. As an erudite art historian puts it: “The style
forbids certain moves and recommends others as effective, but the
degree of latitude left to the individual within this system varies
at least as much as it does in games.”
We can glean in Buko Pandan traces of both rule and risk in the realm
of style. Apart from its captivating visual sweep of the countryside
peopled by farmers and police, it has for its main characters two
sisters on the cusp of womanhood, so to speak. They live with their
grandmother who is stricken by tuberculosis. Their father had drowned
in the river, which also had earlier claimed the life of their
grandfather who, in a freak accident, would be smothered by what
could well have been an eel. At the outset, the rustic province is
wracked by tragedies that lurk behind its deceptively benevolent
flora and fauna.
But besides natural adversities, our heroines also confront threats
posed by culture and civilization, a mode of modernity that
challenges tradition. The young women are portrayed as innocent
maidens traipsing across their little land in flimsy dresses,
obviously a concession to the genre. Their ways are girlish and
charge nary a malice even against the most lascivious, the better for
the men of the town to take advantage of them and indulge in their
guile. They are exposed, in other words, in more ways than one to the
conditions of labor as they weave palm-like fronds from seemingly
giant bromeliads into wide-brimmed hats, and to urbanization as they
deal with the bid of the son of a wealthy neighbor, who comes back
from the city, for the spring that they own. The man wants to build a
resort. We observe from these complications that the lives of Bining
and Esper are not trapped in a vacuum, but play out in social
situations. We see them going to school, listening to vapid radio
serials, and also dreaming of a future beyond Luisiana-Laguna.
As in tales of this streak, there is the moment of sibling rivalry.
We witness the sisters vying for the attention of the rich kid next
door, who exploits their varying vulnerabilities and aspirations for
mobility. The elder, Bining, is circumspect, refusing to sell the
spring down the river. But the younger, Esper, is impulsive, somewhat
rebellious, and less discerning. Both of them lust after the same
man, but it is the latter who musters up enough nerve to go up the
stone house. This single act of indiscretion steers the film toward
sharp turns that end up in murder and sacrifice.
Buko Pandan moves headlong by snaking into the memory of Bining who
does time for a crime Esper had committed out of a fatal combination
of guilt and rage. We see both of them in the end reunited, with
Esper tending their humble homestead in the contented arms of her
loving husband, her former childhood beau, and daughter, and with
Bining steeled by experience and insight. In this passage from purity
to pollution, from seduction to danger, from death to renewal, from
departure to homecoming, the “bold” film redeems itself. Instead of
abusing the theme of the rape of a virginal colony represented by
virginal women baring the abundance of their flesh and the poverty of
their mind, it bothers to understand what it is that women want and
why they want it under circumstances both within and beyond the
control of their limited reckoning.
This cinematic redemption keenly condenses in the metaphor of the
pandan whose leaf gives off a uniquely sweet scent, especially when
mixed with boiled rice, and whose fiber lends itself well to the art
of weaving. The buko or coconut is a more typical reference to rural
clearings and its limpid juice that drips across the bodies of women
is without doubt stock in trade.
All things considered, Buko Pandan is almost but not quite a bold
film. While it is true that its cast-Maricar de Mesa, Pyar Mirasol,
and Paolo Rivero-are packaged as bold stars, they hold out more than
their anatomies for autopsy. They perform very well, given the
parameters of the genre, and are sincere in infusing life into roles
that they, from the looks of it, are familiar and sympathetic with.
Moreover, while it is true that the film meets its quota of industry
requirements, it is able to go beyond its predestined outcome. The
director, with a degree of compassion for the material, carries the
seeds of the story to fertile ground, tilling a field of fruitful
images, motifs, symbols-and wistful music from Coritha. If what
hobbles Philippine cinema is the failure of imagination and
initiative, Buko Pandan, which echoes Claude Berri’s Jean de Florette
and Manon of the Spring, proves the cynics wrong to some tolerable
degree. For framing a bittersweet horizon of the Philippine pastoral
and its promise of plenty and perdition, the film, like the leaf it
lovingly invokes, is at once filament and fragrance. (Reprinted from
Rekompigurasyon ng Lipunan Alinsunod sa Pananaw ni Amanda
Ni Ariel N. Valerio
Pinaksa ng Dekada ’70 ang isa sa mga pinakamaligalig at pinakamasalimuot na yugto ng kontemporanyong lipunang Pilipino. Sa pagtatangka pa lamang na halughugin ang lalim at lawak ng naturang panahon, isang mabigat na atas na agad ang ipinatong ng pelikula sa
sarili at sa manonood nito. Sa pamamayani ng Batas Militar, maraming realidad ang siniil (suppressed), itinatwa (ignored) at binaligtad (inverted) ng estado upang panatilihin ang status quo; bagay na lubusang nagpahirap sa mga historyador upang kumpirmahin ang
makabuluhang kilos ng kasaysayan.
Mas mahirap ang naging gawain ng mga alagad ng sining sapagkat sila ang tuwirang target ng mekanismo ng kooptasyon. Ilang libro ang ipinalathala ni Marcos sa pangalan niya upang sustinihan ang propaganda ng “rebolusyon mula sa gitna”. May mga manunulat na kinabig ng estado upang magpalaganap ng “magandang balita” o ng
“bagong lipunan”. Itinatag din ang Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Center, at ang Film Center upang umawit ng osana sa rehimen.
Sa huling bahagi ng dekada sitenta, polarisado na ang lipunan. Dalawa lamang ang pagpipilian ng artista: maging instrumento ng propaganda ng gobyerno o maging mapagpalayang tinig ng sambayanang Pilipino. Sa ganitong uri ng tunggalian, walang panggitna o nyutral na posisyon.
Isa ang nobelang Dekada ’70 sa mga likhang sining sa panahon ng Batas Militar na tuwirang tumuligsa sa diktadura ni Marcos. Ito ang pinagbatayan ng pelikulang dinirihe ni Chito Roño. Mula sa indibidwalisadong proseso ng produksyon (literatura), isinalin ang materyal sa isang mala-kolektibong proseso ng paglikha. Sa una, kontrolado ng manunulat bawat titik na gagamitin sa nobela; sa ikalawa, walang iisang pwersang maaaring magdikta ng direksyon.
Itinuturing na mala-kolektibo ang paglikha ng pelikula sapagkat kawangis ng proseso ang kolektibong pagdesisyon ng isang grupo ng mga indibidwal na nakatuon sa isang produkto. Ngunit hindi ito lubusang kolektibo dahil may de-kahong papel ang mga taong sangkot sa proseso-halimbawa, hindi maaaring pakialaman ng sinematograper ang editor-kaya wala ring nagaganap na palitan at negosasyon ng mga ideya. Sa halip, nagiging dominanteng pwersa ang prodyuser na may pangunahing interes hindi sa sining ng pelikula kundi sa kalansing ng pera sa takilya.
Kung gayon, tatlong pangunahing balakid ang agad matatagpuan sa landas ng paglikha ng pelikulang Dekada ’70: 1) paggagap sa kontekstong historikal, 2) pagsalin sa anyong pampelikula, at 3) pagtugon sa kahingian ng industriya nang hindi ikinokompromiso ang sining.
Paano humulagpos ang pelikula sa mga balakid na ito?
Paggagap sa kontekstong historikal
Mayaman sa historikal na alusyon ang pelikula. Pinagsikapan nitong isabuhay ang mga pangkalahatang katangian ng panahon-rali ng mga estudyante, pag-alis ng writ of habeas corpus, pagdeklara ng Batas Militar, pagpataw ng curfew, human rights violations, paglawak ng kilusang protesta. Tumatahi sa mga ito ang mga mumunting pangyayari
sa pang-araw-araw na buhay ng pamilya Bartolome-pamumundok ni Jules, pagsali ni Gani sa US Navy, pagkapatay kay Jason-na walang humpay ding nagpatahip sa dibdib ni Amanda at nagpatingkad sa tunggalian nila ni Julian.
Nagbukas at nagsara ang pelikula sa tila dokumentaryong film clips ng multi-sektoral na kilos-protesta laban sa diktadura ni Marcos. Isa-isang tinalunton pagkatapos ang mga insidenteng nagpamulat sa isang ordinaryong maybahay tulad ni Amanda. Mapapansing hindi hiwalay ang pagtalakay sa pangkalahatang sitwasyon ng lipunan sa partikular
na kondisyon ng pamilyang Bartolome. Maipagpapalagay, kung gayon, na
itinaguyod ng pelikula ang paradimang “ang personal ay pulitikal.”
“Ang mga kamay na nag-uugoy ng duyan ang mga kamay na nagpapaikot ng mundo,” wika ni Amanda sa simula ng pelikula. Ito ang tesis na binigyan ng kontra-tesis sa patriarkal na pananaw ni Julian. “It’s a man’s world,” mayabang na bigkas ng lalaki habang nasa hapag ang buong pamilya. “Every man must have something to die for,” uulitin niya sa ibang okasyon, “para matawag siyang lalaki.”
Nagsalimbayan ang kontradiksyon sa tatlong lunan ng lahi, uri at
sari. Walang linyar na pokus ang pagpapatampok sa mga ito. Sa halip,
dumaloy ang buong kwento sa kamalayan ni Amanda. Nagtapos ito sa
personal na rekompigurasyon ng babae sa kanyang lipunan habang
patuloy ding nagbabago ang kanyang materyal na kondisyon.
Paghulagpos sa anyo
Sa isang pormalistang suri, bagsak talaga ang Dekada ’70. Buhaghag
ang naratibo. Hindi nakatulong ang ibang eksena para patindihin ang
kasukdulan. Palipat-lipat ang punto de bista sa loob at labas ng
tahanan, kamalayan at lipunan ni Amanda.
Ngunit kung babakasin ang pelikula mula sa nobela, napakalayo ng
narating ng Dekada ’70. Mula simpleng pagsipi ng mga taludtod mula sa
The Prophet ni Kahlil Gibran, napatingkad ng pelikula ang kabuluhan
ng mga ito sa pamamagitan ng mga tauhan. Mula pagsipi ng datos sa
Ibon Facts and Figures, isinabuhay ng pelikula ang sanhi ng paglawak
ng protesta. Gayundin, mula sa mga larawang iginuhi ng mga salita ni
Lualhati Bautista sa nobela, nabuhay ang mga karakter upang patuloy
na ipagunita sa manonood ang pinakamadilim na yugto ng
kontemporanyong kasaysayang Pilipino.
Humulagpos ang pelikula mula sa nobela. Sinubukan ding humulagpos ng
pelikula sa sarili nitong genre. Sinimulan ni Lino Brocka sa
Orapronobis ang pagpasok ng documentary film clips sa pagitan ng mga
eksenang dramatiko. Itinuloy ito ni Joel Lamangan sa ilang pelikula
tulad ng Flor Contemplacion. Mas pinong bersyon ang matatagpuan sa
Dekada ’70-binuksan at isinara ang naratibo sa taas-kamao at
multi-sektoral na kilos-protesta ngunit hindi nagpatali sa
preskribtibong pormula ng mapagpalayang kilusan.
Suma total ang isang pelikulang bakubako tulad ng mga lansangan sa
kanayunan, humahampas tulad ng mga alon sa batuhan, humuhugong tulad
ng hangin kapag may sigwa.
Humulagpos ang pelikula sa anyo at nilalaman, tulad ng paghulagpos ni
Amanda sa mapaniil na lipunang patriarkal.
Pagtugon sa gusto ng takilya
Gayumpaman, hindi nagbulag-bulagan ang mga lumikha ng pelikula sa
kahingian ng industriya.
Nariyan ang mabentang tambalan nina Christopher de Leon at Vilma
Santos. Binigyan ng sapat na espasyo ang matinee idols na gumanap
bilang mga anak ng mag-asawang Bartolome. Kalakip din ang masisidhing
eksena ng personal na tunggalian upang magpaluha, magpasaya,
magpagunita at magpamulat kung kailangan.
Maliban sa paggamit ng mga elementong panghatak sa manonood-na
talamak sa industriya ng pelikulang Pilipino ngayon-sinubukan din ng
pelikulang gamitin ang mga elementong ito upang makapagbukas ng mga
bintana sa kamalayan ng madlang manonood.
Sintesis ng salimbayan
Ilang ulit nang inokupa ng iba’t ibang uri ng lipunan ang EDSA bilang
tarangkahan ng kapangyarihan ngunit hindi minsan man naglingon-likod
sa mahabang panahon ng pakikibaka mula huling hati ng dekada sisenta
hanggang unang hati ng dekada otsenta.
Sa halip, laging ibinabaon sa limot ang panahong iyon ng pagpupunyagi
upang maipundar ang isang kilusang mapagpalayang nakaugat sa
Rebolusyong 1896 at nagtataguyod sa mga mithiin ng higit na
Kamakailan, inamin ng isang mataas na opisyal ng US ang pakikialam ng
kanyang bansa sa EDSA 1986. Isang bagay na agad itinatwa ng ilan sa
mga tagapagtaguyod ng naturang rebelyon. Isang bagay namang ikinatuwa
ng anak ng dating Pangulong Marcos dahil lumabas din daw sa wakas ang
katotohanan na ang Rebelyong 1986 dinesenyo ng Amerika. Samakatwid,
hindi ito maituturing na lehitimong rebolusyon kundi isang kudeta.
Hanggat patuloy na inililibing sa puntod ng kasaysayan ang panahong
ito, patuloy na magmumulto ang mga Pilipinong itinimbuwang ng
karahasan sa gitna ng pambansang pakikibaka laban sa diktadura.
Ito ang halaga ng pelikulang Dekada ’70 na hindi kayang igpawan ng
mga kaalinsabay nito-pagbalik-tanaw sa panahong nagluwal sa mga
bayaning walang pangalan tungo sa paglaya ng bayan. Habang
nagsasawalang kibo ang maraming Pilipino sa tunay na kabuluhan ng
panahong ito, patuloy na gagamitin ng iba’t ibang pwersa ang kilusang
naipundar ng luha at dugo ng mga Pilipinong nagmahal sa sariling
bayan. Isang testimonya ang pelikula sa kamalayang hindi magagapi at
patuloy na magsasatinig sa katotohanan.
Mahalaga ring bigyang-pansin na isinagawa ang balik-tanaw sa
kamalayan ni Amanda at sa pagkilos ng kanyang mga kamay na nag-ugoy
ng duyan. Sa madaling salita, muling sinipat ang kasaysayan sa
pananaw ng babae. Ngunit sa halip na baligtarin ang katotohanan upang
mangibabaw ang kababaihan-tulad ng madalas gawin ng radikal na
feminismo-itinuring ni Amanda ang asawa bilang kahati, karugtong ng
Sa multi-sektoral na pakikibaka, kapit-kamay ang lalaki at babae
gayundin ang iba’t ibang uri ng lipunan upang isakatuparan ang
rekompigurasyon ng lipunang Pilipino. Ito ang resolusyon ng
kontradiksyon. Ito rin ang siyang tutunguhin ng Pilipinas sa mga
darating na panahon.
A handful of gems
FOR Film Year 2002, the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle reviewed a total of 94 films that comprised the full output of local cinema in the given period. It was no less a daunting task. Dying it may seem, Philippine cinema remains one of the most prolific motion picture industries in the world. Sadly, what it delivers in quantity, it cannot in quality. Out of scores of homegrown productions last year, YCC found just a handful that could be considered meritorious and deserving of the critics' honors.
The local film industry has patents for plenty hoaxes and they cloud the truthful pursuit for recognizing cinematic excellence. Luckily in its incessant commitment to foster an alternative and emergent articulation of the practice of criticism, YCC-never falling prey-is not to be duped. For the 13th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film, YCC had to overturn the decisions of two festival juries and uphold the integrity of certain films
whose worth the industry with its twisted standards and through its coterie of apologists and paid hacks would readily dismiss.
Foremost of the films YCC holds in high regard is Chito S. Roño's Dekada '70 (Star Cinema)-adjudged Best Film of the Year. As any work of art, the film is not perfect. But its tale of a plain housewife's political and social awakening is not to be resisted. It came at a time when the industry mainstream had rendered out of vogue the making of films of this sort-the better to distort the moviegoing
public's notion of good films and manipulate them into patronizing exclusively mediocre and seemingly innocuous fare instead. Apparently, the merchants of the celluloid are too consumed in self-preservation that they wouldn't want the status quo shaken and the order of things altered even a bit. They are afraid of truly good films as these have power to transform society simply by illuminating
reality and providing enlightenment to the viewing throng. For them, some things in the past are best forgotten. When certain films lead viewers to a remembrance of things that they should rather forget in keeping with the designs of the powers-that-be, it's bad for business and there is cause for alarm.
From the screenplay of Lualhati Bautista based on her Palanca award-winning novel, Dekada '70 is one of those films that are to be dreaded and its critical and popular rejection is one of those elaborate schemes that have to be hatched if the existing order of things had to prevail. In the interest of the status quo, the film has to be shunned, subdued and suppressed. As it enjoins audiences to
revisit the horrible episode in the country's past, it opens a can of worms that could spell disaster for the current state of affairs and jeopardize in effect the high stakes waged by the present dispensation's very overlords.
In this sense, the ultimate triumph of Dekada '70 lies not so much in recounting the horrors of Martial Law but in taking into account how one can embrace social change and follow the path towards struggle. This is dramatized in the metaphorical odyssey taken by the film's central figure, a wife and mother named Amanda Bartolome. At first, she would think that pleasing her husband and raising her five boys are all that matters in life. When monstrosities entailed by the turbulent times would prove otherwise, she would come to realize that to be a dutiful wife and loving mother means nothing amidst the
social landscape without the wheels of justice, suffused with the spilt blood of oppression and severely debilitated by rampant poverty. The abiding wife and caring mother would then stop just tending to her home to reach out to the larger society that she would find in need too of her cradling. The symbolic trek Amanda would set out to embark on could nevertheless be hers alone. It must also be the inspiring odyssey involving countless others that audiences may
do well to emulate for the valor and resolve they exemplify in taking up a cause. Dekada '70 pays homage to them as well. The film is also recognized for Best Screenplay, Best Achievement in Sound which includes music and Best Performance by the mother-and-son team of Vilma Santos and Piolo Pascual.
In addition to Dekada '70, YCC also honors more titles that encompass a gamut of fulfilled cinematic possibilities. They complete YCC's roster of top films for the year. Gil M. Portes' Mga Munting Tinig (Teamwork Productions; Maverick Films; CAP Philippines)-to the shallow mind-is a poor ersatz film with a lofty dream to break into the world market. But lost on its jaded detractors is the supreme value of the film in igniting the flames of idealism embodied by the
character of a remote barrio's novice teacher who shall exhaust all means for her deprived wards to gain a chance in life. Music would be the key to their salvation and it would be compellingly demonstrated how the pursuit of art could prod hapless innocents to surpass Third World squalor.
Winner of Best Achievement in Film Editing, Edgardo "Boy" Vinarao's Diskarte (Maverick Films)-a fast-paced action film-is a sprawling indictment of the country in the pits. It postulates that chaos and disorder in the land persist with a useless bureaucracy overrun by thieves and scalawags. Diskarte is alright a cops-and-robbers story. But the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys is gray. The hero himself is not a good and honest cop. There are good and honest
cops but they are not the stereotype of the good and honest cop. Meanwhile, the robbers are hoodlums in uniform, law enforcers dabbling in all illegal activities and high police officials who as private people are interesting and colorful in their own right. One is a doting father to a little girl completely clueless of the evil deeds of the man who sired her. Another gets loose bowels when
cowering in fear. Then there is a police asset who is gay. A disadvantaged senior citizen who makes a living as a scavenger and loves listening to opera music as a hobby would play the Good Samaritan to the aggrieved protagonist in a most poignant enactment of commiseration and solidarity. Joining the fray are two
contrasting sisters both engaged in the sex trade and would be entangled in the crossfire between warring camps of corrupt police.
Francis "Jun" Posadas' Itlog (Seiko Films) seeks to recast the patriarchal system and strip it of its pretensions for benevolence as well as its illusions of omnipotence and invincibility. The film engagingly interweaves the individual histories of five people-a daughter forced into marriage to pay the debt of her late father; an egg farm's kindhearted patriarch married to her; a prodigal son with film ambition; a reforming ex-con who would serve as surrogate son to
the abandoned father and a scheming screen starlet bent on reconciling the feuding father and son with motives not exactly altruistic. A bonus attraction is the appearance of a homecoming japayuki to act as some oracle that would lend the voice of wisdom and foresee the denouement of one household's tragic fall.
Uro Q. de la Cruz' Buko Pandan (World Arts Cinema) is very much a tale of female empowerment masquerading as a skinflick that appears, on the surface, to capitalize on the naked female body and some steamy sex to generate fast bucks at the tills. In truth, it shows the clear road to retribution for victimized and violated women away from what conventional moralizing dictates and the penal code stipulates.
One last film has to be added to YCC's short list of gems for the year. Although not cited in the best film category, Yam Laranas' Ikaw Lamang, Hanggang Ngayon (Viva Entertainment-winner of Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design) is to be celebrated for casting a cinematic eye at some of Manila's old landmarks to serve as backdrop for the bittersweet affair of a pair of vacillating lovers. It offers quite a reprieve and is a rare departure from the
usual inane and antiseptic romance pics drenching local screens all year.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
The Young Critics Circle Film Desk 18th Annual Citation for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2007
View the publication here :)
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The year 2007 saw Lav Diaz’s cinematic argument for Malay time embodied in the lingering musings of his Venice Biennale special prize winner, Death in the Land of Encantos. In the film, poet-philosopher Benjamin Agusan’s homecoming from a scholar-exile’s jaunt through Europe occasions his reckoning with abandoned relations—blood-filial/creative and ideological comrades, earthly and otherwise. The lead character’s self-referenced taking stock interlaced with the off-cam presence of a journalist shooting footage of the desolate spaces of by-then boulder-strewn Padang in Bicol occasionally comes interrupted by Benjamin’s brooding encounters with fellow poet Teodoro and erstwhile partner, the visual artist Catalina. Their verbal tussles over their own and collective pasts and futures thicken the layers of dredged up tales of spirits entombed in a terrestrial radius wiped out by typhoon Reming topped off by the subsequent surging ecological comeuppance of Mount Mayon.
As in previous projects like Batang Westside, Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino, and Heremias Book One: The Legend of the Lizard Princess, Diaz plants his camera statically for most parts of the meandering journey taken by Benjamin alongside spirits haunting places within which seminal events in his life occur--such as his mother slowly lapsing into insanity, a lover leaving him behind on the streets of Kaluga, Russia even as he mourns the loss of a child, etc. Diaz’s camera here is terra firma, playing counterpoint to the heady roundabout, floating-in-the-ether exchanges one could easily eavesdrop on in run-of-the-mill artist-activist haunts and drinking sessions. In Death in the Land of Encantos, the camera comes cast as pensive anchor, a stoic, unobtrusive presence that never hurries viewers unto narrative turns nor neatly tidied up resolutions. It makes for a virtually motionless cinema congruent with a time and place rendered immobile by ingrained inertia, tragedy, betrayal, and blasé state inaction.
Encantos’ visual scape is in fact as sullen and still as Diaz’s camera, with scenes so subtly lit that they keep to the grey, barren, and pared down tone painstakingly throughout the 538-minute cinematic engagement. Within it, the image rhythm is dissonant, congruent with the weaving together of memory, myth, and presumably unedited truth, cutting in and out of what is framed as documentary footage and the intimate moments between Benjamin and personas of his past.
Much has already been said about Diaz’s particular streak of endurance cinema coaxing anything but neutral reactions from viewers opting to either sit through entire or even disjointed segments of his lengthy films. This high-stake cineaste-go-the-distance taunt that underlines his film-making unarguably demands earnest investments of dedicated viewing and stretched cognitive skills. And yet while Diaz makes the case for an alternative regard for time and space (alternative that is to the rigid formula of moviehouse ticket turnarounds triggering the humming of cinema tills) ironically, it is the large proportion of Malays in his own immediate backyard that may still be the least able to watch his most recent cinema. While successfully and dramatically departing from his early mainstream work (Burger Boys, Serafin Geronimo: Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion, Hesus Rebolusyonaryo) which arguably kept to studio stipulations vis-à-vis running time and casting, the truth remains that it would be supreme sacrifice for a Filipino living off a daily wage of P382 to opt into a day-long Lav Diaz filmic tale, assuming they would want to watch this sort of films in the first place.
So apart from earnest affinity with his work, it may still well be, the utter auteurial and indie groupie conceit, of nearly zero accountability and maximum self indulgence that keeps a niche audience aligned behind Diaz. With his obvious disavowal of the mass audience, and apparently employing this tactical dogma/tism as shield to keep market demand at bay, Diaz’s viewers may continue to imperiously pause, revel in their exalted notch above the festival throng, while making much of their trying to make sense of these films. And while it may precisely be Diaz’s tortuous, stream of consciousness shot-making which challenges fastfood cinema provisos, this will also play very much into which voices will get to weigh in on the contentious place Diaz’s films will ultimately be accorded in critical film history.
Yet in the specific case of Death in the Land of Encantos, it is indeed a yawning pace of a story that imaginably comes together in real time in the writer’s mind as it unfolds as leisurely onscreen. And with all that the luxury that that contemplation presupposes, the film’s organic, non-linear working out of questions on art, life and ultimate survival options are pondered upon in plain view with the alternately somber and heightened emotional tension milked rather than truncated. And this is perhaps why there appears to be no middle ground in the appreciative spectrum in relation to Diaz, with his films engendering either a welling up of empathy or sheer indifference, if not disgust. It is after all, for all intents and purposes, a solicited engagement, one that makes viewers wager a position rather than hibernate in nonchalance.
Abetted by the user-friendliness of digital cinema-making, much of Diaz’s latter work unfolds in the D-I-Y pace of read text. Shot and re-told in this vein by an artiste striking out on his own terms and squarely facing the begrudging for it, Death in the Land of Encantos makes for a small-big film, simultaneously epic on many counts yet visibly spartan in other respects as in its production design made manifest in Diaz’s apt banking on nature’s givens.
By intelligently siting Encantos in physical reference to his own notion of home, that is, in the locale of typhoon- and landslide-ravaged Bicol, Diaz ably invokes stasis and silence as key metaphors. In the film’s stifled landscape of a tenuously stilled volcano looming over stilled lives woven into a virtually still narrative, we find our characters and selves perennially waiting, on the precipice of stupor and turbulence. In this particular made-up world, every character apart from nature, is infinitesimal, dwarfed or literally washed out by boulders and surging topsoil; all apparently disposable in the midst of personal and shared grief, where all are left pining—a partner-model, fellow artist-comrades, and finally an abandoned land itself-–all left fallow, wanting for the returning of waylaid heroes toting a glint of redemption. All this, while Encantos’ dystopic desolation translates into a blank slate yearning for alternate endings.
Undeniably writing and weaving stories primarily for himself and any other soul with the wherewithal and stamina to journey with him, Diaz, like most of what makes up the indie world was reared on a type of film education that stuck its finger against what was trite and popular. The irony is that the film crowd that gravitates to work such as this today, while indisputably growing in numbers, still exists as seductive niche to marketers hunting down the next big juiciest milking cow. While still primarily talking only to each other, the onset of Indie Sine Cinemalaya-Cinemanila-Cinema One festival ad infinitum notwithstanding, filmmaker and audience in this ragtag cosmos will ultimately need to reckon with how wide an orbit it will actually drift within particularly since there is nothing intrinsically incorruptible about the films coming out of this as-for-now still alternative economy.
In fact, Diaz’s case may be instructive particularly because of the artist’s perceived stature in the eyes of emerging film makers in this burgeoning environment. And so perhaps what is precisely behind the unsettled critical response to Diaz and his ilk consists of a requisite navel-gazing, of an independent cinema slowly coming of age.
Unapologetically wrapped up in his own poetics nuanced by years of crafting images hewn in police beat-pop culture journalism and TV writing, Diaz renders Encantos with a confident visual impeccability. With most scenes coming to bear on the viewer as stubbornly unflinching stares unto a grey world of unanswered questions and nagging ambiguities integral to Encantos’ filmic un/reality of toned down art, Diaz serves up an upturned dialectics of beauty and terror of uncompromising visual integrity which the Young Critics Circle Film Desk cites this film for in year 2007.
In the end, Diaz and his film engineer their own small deaths, failing to leave the embattled landscape unbruised nor unscathed. By juxtaposing the physical torture of Benjamin Augustin with his military assailant’s rabid mouthing of an upended national anthem, Encantos implicates both state and storyteller apparently succumbing to the pathos of cast-off promise and imposed disappearance.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
True big guns of Philippine cinema gather for one whole afternoon
The Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle finally holds its formal ceremonies to honor the elite circle of winners for the 18th Annual Circle Citations (YCC Awards) for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2007 this Thursday, 7 August 2008, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Pulungang Recto of Bulwagang Rizal (Faculty Center Conference Hall) in UP Diliman.
Brillante “Dante” Mendoza, Lav Diaz and Nick Deocampo are the truly great guns and symbolic tycoons of Philippine cinema gracing the affair. Mendoza (Best Picture for Foster Child) and Diaz (Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design for Death in the Land of Encantos) lead this year’s YCC honorees. Deocampo delivers the keynote address—signaling the first time a filmmaker is handpicked for the annual pivotal task that has now become YCC tradition. Scholars, academics, critics in different fields of fine and liberal arts not alone cinema have previously done the honors.
Heavy star power is provided by Jason Abalos—this year’s Best Performance winner for Endo which also won Best Achievement in Film Editing and Best Achievement in Sound and Aural Orchestration. Aside from bagging the top plum—the Best Picture prize awarded in the prestige style of international film festivals to the director, Foster Child won Best Screenplay.
A list of complete winners and nominees for this year’s YCC film awards by categories is as follows:
Best Film of the Year
Winner: Foster Child directed by Brillante Mendoza (Seiko Films; Robbie Tan, Executive Producer)
Nominee: Endo directed by Jade Francis Castro (ufo Pictures; Ned Trespeces, Michiko Yamamoto, Emmanuel de la Cruz and Raymond Lee, Producers)
Winner: Foster Child (Seiko Films) – Ralston Jover
Nominee: Endo (ufo Pictures) – Jade Francis Castro, Michiko Yamamoto and Raymond Lee
Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design
Winner: Death in the Land of Encantos (Sine Olivia) – Lav Diaz, Director of Photography; Dante Perez, Production Designer
Foster Child (Seiko Films) – Odyssey Flores, Director of Photography; Ben Padero, Production Designer
Still Life (Sining Ko Ito Productions) – Dan Villegas, Director of Photography; Cris Silva, Production Designer
Tirador (Centerstage) – Brillante Mendoza, Julius Villanueva, Jeffrey de la Cruz, Gary Tria, Directors of Photography; Deans Habal, Harley Alcasid, Production Designers
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Winner: Endo (ufo Pictures) – JD Domingo
Nominee: Tirador (Centerstage) – Charliebebs Gohetia
Best Achievement in Sound and Aural Orchestration
Winner: Endo (ufo Pictures) – Corinne de San Jose Cruz and Mark Locsin, Sound Engineers; Owel Alvero, Musical Director
Still Life (Sining Ko Ito Productions) – Joey Santos, Sound Engineer; Wincy Ong, Musical Director
Tirador (Centerstage) – Ditoy Aguila and Junel Valencia , Sound Engineers; Tere Barrozo, Musical Director
Best Performance by Male or Female, Adult or Child, Individual or Ensemble in Leading or Supporting Role
Winner: Jason Abalos in Endo (ufo Pictures)
Cherry Pie Picache in Foster Child (Seiko Films)
Eugene Domingo in Foster Child (Seiko Films)
Ron Capinding in Still Life (Sining Ko Ito Productions)
Established in 1990, YCC is the academe-based critics group with members coming from various disciplines. Through the years, they have become attentive observers of Philippine cinema constantly bringing into the analysis of film an interdisciplinary approach.
The organization departs from many conventions of other award-giving bodies both here and abroad in bestowing cinematic honors. For instance, the award for Best Film of the Year is reserved for the director such that no separate prize for direction is needed. The Best Performance award is most coveted as it is conferred on a screen performer whether male or female, adult or child, individual or as part of an ensemble, in leading or supporting role. To uphold a more dynamic and encompassing way of looking at films, technical honors refer to fusion of outstanding efforts in fields otherwise deemed apart. In this case, the Best Cinematography and Visual Design recognition covers both camerawork and art direction. Similarly, Best Sound and Aural Orchestration encompasses not just sound engineering per se but musical score as well. #
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
UP Film Institute
July 28 Mon
Manuel Conde Retro: Genghis Khan 2:30 p.m.
Baby Angelo 5 p.m.
Concerto 7:30 p.m.
July 29 Tue
Cinemalaya’s Past Best Pictures Showcase: Pepot Artista 2:30 p.m.
Jay 5 p.m.
Huling Pasada 7:30 p.m.
July 30 Wed
Cinemalaya’s Past Best Pictures Showcase: Tulad ng Dati 2:30 p.m.
Brutus 5 p.m.
Namets 7:30 p.m.
July 31 Thu
Cinemalaya’s Past Best Pictures Showcase: Tribu 2:30 p.m.
100 5 p.m.
My Fake American Accent 7:30 p.m.
(Aug 1 Fri
Ishmael Bernal Gallery Night with Film Premiere of Adolf Alix’s Imoral 7:30 p.m.)
Aug 2 Sat
Endo 2/5/7 p.m.
Aug 4 Mon
Anita Linda Tribute: Tambolista 2:30 p.m.
Boses 5 p.m.
Ranchero 7:30 p.m.
Aug 5 Tue
Manuel Conde Retro: Krus na Kawayan 2:30 p.m.
Cinemalaya 2008 Competing Shorts A 5 p.m.
Cinemalaya 2008 Competing Shorts B 7:30 p.m.
Aug 6 Wed
Anita Linda Tribute: Sisa 2:30 p.m.
Cinemalaya 2008 Special Jury Prize Winner 5 p.m.
Cinemalaya 2008 Best Picture 7:30 p.m.
Aug 7 Thu
Donsol 2:30 p.m.
Kadin 5 p.m.
Anita Linda Tribute: Sisa 7:30 p.m.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Puwede bang ma-inlove ang matrona sa binata?Puwedeng-puwede naman pero tiyak na makatitikim ngmaanghang na mga pasaring ang di-karaniwang relasyon.Ganito ang nangyari kina Judge Dorinda vda. deRoces (Ms. Nora Aunor) at Noah Garcia (Yul Servo) saNaglalayag (Silent Passage) ng Angora Films. Sang-ayonsa pelikula, “paglalakbay sa dagat” at “dahan-dahangpagtigil ng regla” ang “naglalayag.” Sa unang eksena,tinagusan si Dorinda; nakita ang mantsa ng dugo nanghubarin niya ang togang simbolo ng kapangyarihan.
Hindi na bagong dugo si Ms. Aunor ngunit inaasahang marami pa siyang dugong puwedeng ibuhoskung pag-arte ang pag-uusapan. Bagay sa kaniya angpapel na ginagampanan dahil kaedad niya ang tauhan.Pero batayang kahingian na ito sa casting.
Pagod na raw si Ms. Aunor sa sining ng pag-arte natatlong dekada na niyang binubuno. Para sa ilan pa,nakakapagod na ang panonood sa kaniya. Pero nagdedeliber pa rin si Ms. Aunor ng inaasahang dapatideliber ng isang ikono ng pelikulang Filipino na katuladniya.
Sa Naglalayag, may ningning pa rin ang mata ni Ms.Aunor; nagpapahayag ng masasalimuot na damdamin ngbabaeng may gulang, may hawak na kapangyarihan, at iginagalang pero unti-unting bumigay sa alon ng bagongpag-ibig. Nakakaalibadbad, nakakaasiwa, nakakadiri panga para sa iba ang isiping ma-inlove ang gurang sabata.
Ang mahigpit na paghahatakan ng pag-ibig at reputasyonsa lipunan ay magiting na isinakatawan ni Ms. Aunor sabawat eksena. Ang mga lambingan nila ni Yul Servo aykomiko pero nagpapabigat din sa pagbabadya ng daratingna batikos sa kanilang relasyon. Sa mga eksenangtrahiko, ang pagtirik ng mata ni Ms. Aunor (nangibalita sa kaniyang napatay ng mga holdaper si YulServo) ay lumalagom na sa pagbagsak ng buong daigdigng huwes (na nagdadalantao pa mandin).
Isang matingkad na pagganap ang inihain ni Ms. Aunorsa Naglalayag. Gayunman, hindi nito ganap na mahahangoang naratibo sa mga kakulangang sosyolohiko atartistiko. Naghihintay pa ng higit na karapat-dapat namateryal ang di-nauubos na talento ni Ms. Aunor.Patuloy ang paglalayag. Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr.
by Patrick D. Flores
A tarpaulin poster accosts you as you enter the movie house where Pusang Gala is screened. Printed on it are ecstatic endorsements of the film from mainstream scribes, broadsheet and tabloid regulars who are long on their praises but short on their scrutiny. The hype of this recent release is typical, inflated by all sorts of claims: that it was shot digitally then transferred onto film, that it dares speak the sub rosa voices of dissident sexualities, and that it is an independent film from filmmakers who have other things to say besides platitudes. There is an implicit heroism in this posture, a stance against the common and the known.
This ploy, which heavily trades on the prestige of the much-abused term alternative, psyches up uninitiated viewers and earnest cineastes to be impressed, maybe even inspired by the sheer flair and temerity. They will also be inclined to like and cherish the film, read some profound insight into it, walk away from it feeling good about their part in the heady movement of new cinema in the Philippines.
In this situation, film is sort of wrought to become an instrument of national development and global competition. Here, an industry is saved by reforms within the system so that it could function properly in the trade and contribute positively to the general economy. Such is the premise of government investment in a national cinema, aside from its interest in its effective channels for ideological engineering. Cinema thus ceases to be an artistic defense against prevailing untruths and degenerates into a tool of the survival of an order under the banner of the “alternative.” This is what the vogue of independent cinema in these parts is all about: an alibi of the business to make itself over, to take on another guise, to trick viewers into believing they are witnessing new visions whenever they behold reformatted apparitions.
This is why films that do not secure the blessings of the gatekeepers of the State and the market, who conspicuously promote independent cinema in easy mantras, are more interesting. For instance, Yam Laranas’ Sigaw and Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista, which were scrupulously appraised in Los Angeles and Locarno respectively, were largely unheralded, almost weaned away from the publicity machinery of cultural and media brokers who trumpet the advent of independent cinema in very arriviste ways. They might prove to be the more textured specimens of a different breed of films, their spirit more genuine, if only because they have been able to resist the stage management of the hired hands of the establishment who continually sit in juries, get quoted as arbiters of taste, and even teach courses in filmmaking at the height of self-importance and self-perpetuation.
This is, of course, for the most part fantasy, which is a fitting complement to the seriocomic Pusang Gala, helmed by Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil. It conveniently blurs the borders between “reality” and “fiction,” the better to mask its inability to cross the gaps between these poles, granting they exist, and to come to grips with the complications of a dense social context. The film makes it appear that its agenda is complicated; actually, it is simple-minded. The scenario: Two friends and neighbors, a gay man and a single woman advertising executive, go through the travails of love and lust. He houses a lover of the working class, who finds him predatory and thus treats him as fair game for reciprocal predation. She keeps an affair with a lothario who takes her for granted, lies to her face, but makes her deliriously blissful in bed. Both coveted lovers, swines among pearls, betray them; proletariat sodomist rips off romance-writer benefactor, who incidentally takes under his wings a stowaway, and vain stud tells his pregnant damsel, after not seeing her for three months, he could not marry her. All this leads to loss: Boy toy kills street kid and lady-in-waiting tries to kill herself. They endure by indulging their affectations: roses in the garden, gayspeak gossip, whining and dining, and even a lapse of sexual liaison.
Whether in fantasy or waking life, the hapless victims of failed aspirations become murderous, their drama and laughter ultimately overcome by trite grief, their decisions shaped by questionable psychosis to which the film caters with tiresome solicitude. Like the fictions in their minds that do not sell because the public allegedly subsists on more exciting tales, the pair sells out but nevertheless wallows in the conceit of correctness and the righteous indignation against discrimination, which is alluded to polemically and not thought through with care. The eccentricity that the film tries hard to simulate – complete with hectic cinematography, self-conscious inter-cutting, and tiresome parallel editing – could have yielded gains had it been presented as a foil to the rationality of heterosexist habits; its edge could have been sharpened had it been engaged with more friction and tangential resistance from wayward creatures, as well as with the realization that while gays and working women who stay away from their families give full play to romance and sentiment, this reckless, unruly, and potentially radical energy also needs to be tempered by reflection and a keen sensitivity to excess and malice.
That the cast responds to the film’s cavalier demands with alacrity does not help. Ricky Davao’s depiction of gayness is stock-in-trade and Irma Adlawan, unloading her full thespian weight, is eternally existential, as if her character did not emerge from a social condition. The rest of the ensemble are textbook fixtures. This overall failure stems from the haphazard direction of an irresponsible script, based on a play by the co-writer of one of Philippine filmography’s debacles, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal.
If this flick of no charm is the face of independent cinema that embodies the much-needed transformation in Philippine filmmaking and if digital technology is chiefly used to refurbish an obviously worn out commercial furniture, then it is safe to declare that the box-office raid of D’Anothers is richly deserved. My friend quips that Pusang Gala is a stray film about stray cats, to which I retort that this tedious exercise is a long drawn caterwaul. Or is it merely a whimper – and the putative Philippine independent cinema a sorry purr?
Gay presence in Philippine cinema has always been problematic. More often than not, the homosexual is depicted as a marginalized and disempowered entity, a cardboard character, a caricature that is an object of disdain or ridicule if not a source of comic relief or simply a fixture in aid of slapstick.
It is not the concern of Joel Lamangan’s Aishite Imasu, Mahal Kita—1941 (Regal; Basfilm) to depart from such tradition of portraying gays. In developing for the screen its central figure, there is no clear effort to picture the homosexual being beyond its projection as some exotic grotesquerie fit for the carnival. It doesn’t help that the main protagonist dies towards the end of the film as the filmmakers’ probable notion of gay lib is fixated on professing a testament to one gay’s martyrdom for the sake of an occupied motherland.
Needless to say, such standpoint advances no good cause and in fact is inimical to the very interest of the marginalized gay sector whose contribution to the society at large that represses it must always be properly highlighted whenever an occasion comes around if only to serve the purposes of empowerment. Thus, the fundamental flaw of films like Aishite Imasu lies on the very opportunities it wantonly wasted precisely to make a difference in throwing positive light on the gay plight in general.
Fortunately not everything is bleak for Aishite Imasu in terms of critical merits. Its salvation is carried out with the brave performance turned in by lead actor Dennis Trillo. The fact that his is a debut all the more magnifies the most distinguished achievement especially in the context of a domestic industry made barren by rampant corruption, marked breakdown of intelligence and sheer shortage of talent.
Handicapped by the film’s poor writing, Trillo is left to his own devices to nevertheless allow his breakthrough performance to soar. He has to practically struggle against the veiled attempt governing the making of the film to downgrade his role and strip it of its efficacy in order not to take the limelight away from the more favored members of the cast. The ill design tremendously fails and it is Trillo who ends up outshining everyone and outsmarting the very film rendered puerile by its filmmakers’ inability to pursue to the fullest the bold premise of their material.
By way of Trillo’s method, the quintessential Pinoy gay hero gets to rise not merely to assert presence but more so to protest the aberrations of history. There is poetic justice in all this. For all of human history as gays are despised and denied their basic rights, it turns out that there are far worse than gay sexuality that the world must dread and guard against such as exactly the evil that men do to their fellow men in the form of wars, the slaughter of entire races, the subjugation of whole nations. It is ironic that the point is brought home as embodied no less by a most unlikely tragic figure—an accidental querida of war who happens to be a cross-dressing gay but not completely of war’s making. #
Patrick D. Flores
In the more instructive instances of Philippine melodrama, the family serves as the microcosm or analogue of the nation and initiates the allegory of its history. In an allegory like Francisco Baltazar's Florante at Laura, the realism of the plot does not make sense if severed from the moral agenda of an alternate or alternative reality, so that the characters, for instance, in Filipinas become social types that enact the narratives of a nation in pieces.
The film's tendency to broaden the dimensions of this material needs to be encouraged, if only because it harnesses the potential of the practice of moviegoing as a collective act of “reviewing” society. In Filipinas, the crest of a middle-class family is also the name of the country -- the nation is wracked by crisis and is ultimately rendered comatose – as materialized in a diseased matriarch fighting for dear life. The gesture of the family awaiting her (and the nation's) awakening is a moment that effectively synthesizes realism and allegory in a prefiguration of salvation in a milieu on the verge of a total breakdown. This is a vigil that may inaugurate a renewed moment of nation in the hands of subjects divesting themselves of identities that have become inutile because of the malfunctioning and ultimately failed nation-state and its nationalism.
What is of substantial interest in Filipinas is its task, and this need not be a thoroughly fruitful or even a satisfying one, to work out an allegory in cinematic terms and within the domain of melodrama. In this modality, the film is able to address the desires of melodrama, which usually redound to a search for authenticity of claim, as coextensive with the suffering of a nation besieged by social discrepancies. Here, the family and the nation become co-sufferers and share in intimate relations that dispose them to oblige each other to reciprocate acts of kinship: succor, sustenance, sympathy.
It is within this perspective that the characters in Filipinas are not only dramatis personae, but also discursive subjects who inscribe in human action the political economy of a particular condition. We, therefore, identify various levels of what is called the “social thickness” in the film: the level of the plot, the level of the allegory, and the foregrounding of a third level of possible transcendence that is an augury of a revivified lifeworld in the throes of death but also in the bloody hour of conception. This is an achievement in Philippine cinema that merits critical appraisal for its temerity to confront the aporetic impossibility of nation: of Filipinas.
Monday, June 2, 2008
by Patrick D. Flores
Of the few but not precious 55 films released by the local industry in 2004, only a paltry number merits a closer look, and of these leavings only one stands a chance at serious scrutiny. This opinion, of course, sharply contrasts with the rosy projections of apologists who have taken pains to declare that the trade is not dying; they have even doled out tax incentives to films they have found excellent. Subjecting these sanctified titles to keener analysis, we will realize, however, that the public has been misled and that the system of supposedly revitalizing the industry is not only not working, it basically rests on a mistake. Subsidy given to off-the-shelf productions made by people whom granters cherish as friends and associates is entirely wrong, though it is only half of the story. The other half is this: subsidy that does not guide the development of a project, from the selection of the material, its research and refinement, and on to its actual filming is useless and wasteful endowment.
We have been on this road before and there are those who do not tire in treading it because the routine rerun is not without its gains. Take the exemplary case of Laurice Guillen’s Santa Santita, which was conferred an A rating by the Cinema Evaluation Board, an office well within the realm of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, the Chair of which is the director of the film. Before the film could be released commercially, a well-known reviewer of a mainstream daily, a member of the said Board by the way, praised it lavishly, short of naming it the most beautiful film on the face of this earth, and this is just based on the trailer. Further inquiry reveals critical connections among director, producer, reviewer, and other abiding relations that lead all the way to the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Surely, these links do not make a straight line of conspiracy or corruption, but they hint at the system of intricate relationships that tend to compromise, either in perception or in actual deed, the independence of the very task of “evaluation.” The Spanish have a term for it, and it is not sin verguenza.
To be fair to Santa Santita, it builds its premise around an argument, a rare element in many local films, which insists on the possibility of miracle. To a certain extent, it offers itself as a foil to the discourse of Himala, the master narrative of the critique of the miracle yarn, and purveys the notion that, in fact, miracles can transpire and that they work through “flawed humanity.” The film seems to tell us that not because the institutional church is corrupt, its faithful could not achieve the grace of conversion, which is the basis of the miracle work performed by what Guillen would regard as a “modern Magdalene.” The allusion to Mary Magdalene is problematic, if only because the persona is actually a composite of so many rounded women figures in the Bible and was flattened by popular consciousness as a prostitute. Angelica Panganiban’s Malen is not a prostitute, but a young woman of typical mischief who is tormented by the guilt that she had caused the death of her mother, a prayer peddler in Quiapo church. A cult forms around her after several believers had testified to her fraudulent power to intercede, a turn of events that threatens the church and forces it to banish her from its hallowed ground. To dramatize this mystified conversion, Malen, now conscious of sin and the surveillance of the gods, confronts a priest in distress and her lover, a diabolical lumpen hustler who is duped by a matron and who tempts the heroine to revive his dead child. In crucial encounters with them, Malen comes out with a beatific smile, as if to mark epiphany. All told, the film sends vague signals of an emerging theology, initiated in the more tenable Guillen outing, Tanging Yaman. It seeks to lodge faith firmly in the individual, release it from the collective, and paradoxically, create casts of mind hospitable to the seductions of charismatic rabble-rousers.
Another A-film inflated without justification is the sorry Panaghoy sa Suba of Cesar Montano, which exploits the locale of Bohol and its language to prop up a pan-Visayan local history against the texts of national destiny. But the lofty fantasy fails to craft a credible story to support the scheme. The technique is unmotivated, the characters nearly cardboard, and the outlook is for all intents and purposes faux pastoral, complete with tarsiers and fluvial funerals.
Jeffrey Jeturian’s Minsan Pa, another tribute to those dear Cebuanos who had installed a beleaguered President, is another sad accident. Perhaps on the level of literature, it makes the cut, considering that it is able to achieve the height of abstraction and metaphor and the weight of character. A tourist guide, who refers his Japanese clients to sex workers, falling in love with a woman who sacrifices everything for the love of a blind, unfaithful lover occasions complications, with which a director of timid imagination could not cope; he merely resorts to devices that signal spurious subtlety and even more spurious silence. Spurious because all the tensions evoked are settled without negotiation: couples get married, families are reunited, and love is ensconced as if nothing else mattered. In the end, we feel that the symbolic universe (through the memory of photography pretentiously submerged in the depths of the ocean) demanded by the script is forced on the film, and vice versa, and what this ambition with no vision leaves behind, after hours of calculated dramaturgy, is the belabored paean to the age-old illusion that love cannot see.
In this heap of letdowns, it is Sigaw of Yam Laranas that attains a degree of difficulty and, therefore, solicits significant artistic interest. It is interesting because it is sensitive to dimensions. A story of a haunted decrepit apartment that shocks a young man and his girlfriend out of their wits is only one dimension. For around this plot is the real history that is repressed by a seemingly comfortable order; it is the tale of a demented military man who batters his wife, terrorizes his daughter, and kills them. The only witness to this sordid affair is a witless handyman in stupor, drowning himself in liquor to forget the violence and admonishing trespassers not to interfere. It is this sediment of life that is embedded in the Kafkaesque architecture, which is represented not in realistic terms but in terms that prompt us to construe it as a nightmare, a hell into which the innocent is lured, an irrational and impossible place which could only be made contingent on fiction to render it necessarily real. It is this “real” that differs from the reality of the lives of the middle-class, represented luminously by the poreless and virtually vacant face of Richard Gutierrez and the cluelessness of Angel Locsin. This sort of reality is vexed until the protagonist decides to make himself complicit by opening the door, which the previous tenant had refused to unlock for fear of his life; his room is now inhabited by the unnerved hero who is faced with the horror of making a decision to amend a crime of another time and to disabuse the suspicion that he is doing the same to his beloved. That the specter of history, through the restless mother, persists to haunt the apoplectic couple even in the movie house, a futile refuge of the indifferent, where a comic film is playing deepens the dimension of Sigaw. And that at its resolution, an alternative narrative is permitted to play out – with the woman shooting her husband and the daughter being able to hide – invests this kind of cinema with the chance to intervene in the production of the “real” as opposed to the idealizations of an actually harrowing society; needless to say, it also guarantees it a germ for a sequel.
In a year of natural and political disasters and of imperial powers ever more entrenched in their thrones, the motion pictures could have been inspired to do more than fill up the production slates of an incorrigible industry, which in recent years has yielded only diminishing returns. From the looks of it, Philippine cinema was a casualty of the catastrophe of its own creation. It is terrifying that no one seems to be scared.
No apologies are forthcoming for the palpably haphazard fusing of exoticized Chinese iconography and streetfolk superstition that frames Chito Roño’s ghoulish sub-urban tale, Feng Shui. In this filmic take on fate and greed set against the spectra of the mystic and the banal, Roño presumably resorts to hybridization to underscore the fact that no one paradigm governs how agency and subjectification come to tentative resolutions.
The screenplay by Roño and Mano Po writer Roy Iglesias places the bag-ua or bagwa squarely in the center of a series of givings and takings to drive home the notion that both crises and windfalls are mere realignments of power and resource. By employing this literally reflective device alongside Chinese lunar calendar icons to propel its storyline, Feng Shui’s creators pointedly implicate the voyeuristic gaze in the working out of personal plight. One looks and one accounts for looking. And since there is the matter of imposing chronology to the requisite morbidity this genre serves up, that is where filmic character birthdates come into play.
Feng Shui’s bagwa showers material and non-material come-uppance on its owner much like a genie-in-a-bottle affords three wishes to its clichéd master-finder. In this case, the battle-worn bagwa comes with its own caveats and this expectedly involves its owner’s belated but requisite taking stock of accompanying cataclysms. As text, the film’s premise interestingly brings forth nagging questions: of why the bagwa only kills reflected entities, thus effectively sparing the oblivious or passive who are implicitly rendered innocent; of how possession hedges against adversity; and how staking territorial limits paradoxically courts intrusion.
In the film, a young couple (Kris Aquino and Jay Manalo) begin living the Filipino middle-class dream--of moving into their own (usually sacrificially mortgaged) single-detached (ergo non-row) house in a gated, metropolitan suburb away from the panoptic sphere of overbearing in-laws and uber-congested city sensibilities. It is to this heavy-handedly production-designed suburbian paradise that Joy Ramirez (Aquino) comes home to after finding a bagwa tucked between the seats of a passenger bus. With this passing on of fortunes from one unwitting sojourner to another, Feng Shui sets up its narrative, hinting at how fate takes a meandering course across thought-to-be guarded, private biographies and imagined personalized space.
Like other tomes imbibed with the push and pull of power fetishes (Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, and a whole slew of animated productions based on personally tormented hero-centric stories), Feng Shui plays up the idea that acquisition comes twin-billed with corruption, a gnawing away of one’s soul and insensitivity toward reality outside the self; where personal gain comes with the loss of others; where economies are intricately woven through by relationships; and wealth is reallocated through dramatized flourishes and liquidations.
In the case of Feng Shui, the film unequivocally rides upon the fusion of two currently en vogue cinematic trends: that is, technically polished macabre serials perfunctorily given an Asian/orientalist-metaphysical spin. And while it is this filmic dalliance with chinoiserie punctuated by episodic accounts of self-inflicted tragedy that immediately invites charges of creative plundering of box-office wonders Ringu and The Sixth Sense, among others, we submit that other pertinent issues warrant discourse.
Briefly, we point to Feng Shui’s take on the dynamics of fate independent of knowledge. Perhaps inadvertently but decidedly nonetheless, the film posits an unproblematized, patently reactionary strain upholding the idea of personal redemption devoid of struggle. For even as Feng Shui attempts to locate the familial quest for an easier life within the real--pinched dual-income households, multilevel marketing schemes feeding-off quiet acts of desperation, the palatability of cure-alls and palliatives--the film still much too readily slips into escapist, fatalistic accountings of success. In the end, Feng Shui still comes across as a woven narrative of quick fixes, where flippant references to ”asenso” and “malas” are lightly tossed around and where the great Filipino dream remains a caricaturized Batangas resthouse or a mansion in Alabang—all considerations for macro socio-economic real politik and collective reckoning nothwithstanding.
Despite Feng Shui’s unarguable technical accomplishments (pulled off by Albert Idioma for sound engineering, Vito Cajili for editing and Neil Daza for photography), the film delivers backhanded jokes to its audiences: over and above the predictably comically morose performances delivered by its leads, Feng Shui’s noontime-gameshow rhetoric plays up chance and happenstance as the only viable avenues for financial and emotional respite. To the weary, overworked, stereotypically victimized Filipino, this film continues to serve up such continually perpetuated myths: that on this side of cinema paradiso the cards are always fairly dealt, and the divine always trumps the trite.
by Patrick D. Flores
The horror in the film Sigaw, conceived and nearly entirely executed by Yam Laranas, is the trauma that it presents at the outset as a dreadful effect. It is the trauma that disrupts the uneventful lives of the characters and initiates the audience into the causes of the distress, if not the abjection. The latter intimates itself in the tragic helplessness of a young mother who seeks succor from a neighbor in a rather decrepit apartment; she is trying to shield her daughter from the violence inflicted on her by her brutal husband, a military man who batters her thoroughly. The neighbor, a man willing to lend a hand but constrained by his own fear for his life, intervenes only to a certain extent, and refuses to go out on a limb to fully realize what could well be a fatal heroism. And so, it comes to pass: the man kills the woman and the child and then himself.
This is the sort of haunting that bedevils the innocent who trespass the threshold of the living and the dead and mingle with those who yearn to speak their graven hearts. And it is the specter of the past haunting the present that serves as our access to the “real,” which is repressed by the symbolic domain that purports to be the reality we must accept as customary and inevitable, if only because we cannot help it. Well, the spirits of this abode resist this disarticulation, and strive to perform the theater of their history across time, affording us a retroactive narrative of the trauma and pleading not only for a reenactment but a rehearsal of a different outcome, which in its course renders the entire tale poignant and melancholic as it traces the cause of the effect.
Such trauma is well-coordinated by highly accomplished and creative filmmaking, from its intriguing screenplay to its robust sound. But it is largely through cinematography and visual design that this is fleshed out with conviction. The scheme of horror is ingeniously embedded in the architecture, which is depicted without ethnographic detail inasmuch as it is conveyed as a nightmare, the house of the real that intrudes on a reality domesticated by such norms as the family, class ascendancy, and indifference. The camera of the film controls the chromatic climate, which shimmers through the spectrum of dark green, and takes us to ceilings stained by faces, elevators of menacing banality, and rooms cramped with vexing memory. There are also repetitive flashes of prey running the lengths of storied corridors.
Sigaw, therefore, plays around the vital element of horror: the uncanny return of the aggrieved and how it complicates the lives of those who have not committed. There is a scene in this film that is emblematic of its psychoanalysis: Gripped in terror, the couple battling the demons of their imagination find refuge in a movie house where a comic attraction unreels and where the audience laugh their wits out. But the two just sit there, as if apoplectic, whereupon the wandering woman torments them with another apparition. That the cinema is revisited creates another dimension within the scenario, as it finally implicates the institution of spectatorship as party to the conspiracy of representation, of making a particular language of the real utterable at the expense of its impossibility (not yet possible), which as we learn here can never be abandoned.
In the end, we become witnesses to the crime, to the spectacle of the irrational. And the film compels us to become complicit. This is why the hero had to open the door to terminate the horror. Such horror does not only stem from the havoc wrought by restless souls, but also from the need to acquit himself: her girlfriend’s parents have already suspected him of beating their daughter after she is badly whipped by the malevolent phantom, a reference to the dastardly deed of the police, which incidentally is an acute index of the excesses of military power, that now seemed to have rubbed off on the catatonic knight. This is the “real” that no liquor could drown, the recourse of the handyman who is the only person who could testify to the horror yet has chosen to deter himself and others from attesting to the truth. Sigaw, however, does not relent. It lures itself into a more inclement realm: the challenge to propose a symbolic resolution as the door of engagement is flung: not to repeat reality, but to change it, so that it is the woman who slays her tormentor and it is the child who eludes perdition.
The theorist Slavoz Zizek has told us that: “The real which returns has the status of a(nother) semblance: precisely because it is real, that is on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.”
This is what Sigaw does: to compel a decision of confronting the trauma – of opening the door -- through the decisive device of a screaming cinema. It is hoped that it has our ear.