Monday, June 2, 2008

The Restive Condition (Sigaw)

The Restive Condition

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.

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