Friday, June 27, 2008

Filipinas: Vigil for a Lost Nation

Filipinas: Vigil for a Lost Nation
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.

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