Sunday, December 7, 2008

Legal Action By Patrick D. Flores

repost from the 2002 YCC citations

Legal Action
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
artistic integrity.

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)

1 comment:

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