Saturday, June 11, 2011

Film Review: Pink Halo Halo

YCC is currently choosing the best films to cite for 2010. On the run-up to short listing, we are posting review by members. In this essay, Tessa Marie Guazon shows why she favors Pink Halo Halo.

Life’s vast skies and ports of call
Tessa Maria Guazon

Pink Halo-Halo
Joselito Altarejos
Cinemalaya and Beyond the Box Inc., in cooperation with Voyage Studios

Grief is impending doom in Pink Halo-Halo, written and directed by Joselito Altarejos. Imminent loss is the quiet tension that binds the clear skies of the film’s locale and its mostly, austere central characters. At the heart of this moving narrative is a young boy at the cusp of life, a moment when its tempo is decided by events that fate brings. Nearing adolescence, we regretfully see him leave behind the joyful frolic of childhood to face life’s looming despair, the greatest burden would be the death of his father, Lino Bolante a corporal suddenly recalled to Basilan. Filmed in a Masbate town on a good harvest season Pink Halo-Halo embraces its locale fully, eloquently capturing on screen the rhythm of town life and its inhabitants. The film avoids the nostalgia and skewed romance of place that so entraps many local films, whether these places are impoverished towns or blighted cities. Humor and grief, polar opposites so difficult to bind are handled with quiet compassion. The sutbleties so despairingly missing in the postcard stills and stilted narratives of most other movies are refreshing finds in Pink Halo-Halo.
It opens to a game of pretend war among young boys brandishing their wooden toy guns. Their play is disrupted by the arrival of a dead soldier’s body from Mindanao. They walk home and lingered at the wake, seeing grief still unknowable to hearts unblemished by loss. Natoy and a friend stop to eat halo-halo at a local cafeteria. We see the refreshment served, and against the stark, summer sun its colors transform from enticing to ghastly. On shaved ice, the red syrup eerily looks like blood on snow while the yam’s violet black hue appears like the land for which blood is spilled. While the boys enjoy the refreshment, the cafeteria owner lovingly lingers on photos of a dead soldier in a coffin. We then surmise that army enlistment is both salvation and plague in this town, and in mute horror realize that perhaps these boys will also choose to risk their lives in far-off places of war when they become men.
The meager salary from the army helps build Natoy’s home and fence their lot, support aging grandparents and a younger brother studying to be a teacher but who looks forward to being an army colonel. The boy regards these with a mind unclouded by complexity. He does not dream to be a soldier, he is amused and even beguiled by the vanity of women and his mother’s pregnancy is a prospect both alien and inviting. He makes doll paper cut-outs while his parents debate over his father’s wanting to stay in the army far longer than planned.
Gloom creeps into the house’s dark and cool interiors on the day his father is to leave. The camera moves to the boy scanning his school books on the polished wooden floor while adult life hovers above him, his mother Sonia busily ironing shirts, his uncle polishing to gleam his father’s army boots.We overhear the parents planning for the coming of another child and settling payments to be made on the motorbike and the fence, matters far from the mind of a child now playing with his father’s army dogtags. They saw him off to sea and like most scenes of parting, the vast waters however blue and serene presage loss. It struck me how inured we have become to these many partings, often with little hope of reunion and return. Risk, it seems is the only constant in these leave-takings
Pink Halo-Halo evokes grief as it encroaches on the mundane, as inescapable as night turning into day. Over halo-halo, son and mother hears of an encounter in Basilan. A war so removed from their lives, news delivered through the grainy screen of a television set lending an unreal cast to mourning. Tragedy is often received with disbelief. The void between knowing and proof , between the image of a bloodied father and the arrival of his cold body is met with quiet, severe sorrow. This community knows bereavement and confronts its onslaught with courage. Prayers are said amidst the drone of the evening news, tears are silently shed and they face the inevitable arrival of the box from Basilan draped with the national flag. Their loss is ours as well. Yet the film avoids the histrionics that beset the depiction of grief and despair, reminding us that like heat and rain, misery and joy make life in equal measure. This fact is presented beyond artifice, and a contained, measured tranquility prevails throughout the film. No doubt, the film owes this to its eloquent handling of time and its thorough knowledge of place. Little is forced and when we witness these (such as the news of impending death and the image of the wounded father/soldier calling out to son across television), we know these constructions are deliberately chosen metaphors.
Indeed, the dead do not wholly depart and the living exists with them. Berger writes that the dead surrounds those who live. The living he says “are the core of the dead” and that only “timelessness surrounds this core”. We endure not merely sorrow, we live with reminders that death brings- the fragility of life and the tenacity of the human heart, of the choices we can make and the battles we opt to win. Pink Halo-Halo ends with the family tensely awaiting the boat that brings to shore a loved one’s corpse. We share their silence as the camera pans to the skies and clouds gather to cast shadows on an ordinarily bright summer day.
Cited work
Berger, John. 2007. Hold everything dear: Dispatches on survival and resistance. New York: Vintage, 3.

Tessa Maria Guazon is assistant professor of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
She writes about cities, film and contemporary public art practice.
Recent publications include reviews in Humanities Diliman and Asian Art News, essays in the Agham Tao Journal, the Suri-Sining anthology, and Pananaw 7. A forthcoming essay in the International Journal of Urban Research examines art's mediation of urban conditions.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Critic of the Month

The YCC critic of the month Jaime Oscar M. Salazar, comments on a timely topic, the question of where and how to bury the remains of a dictator.

Honor vacui
Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

That Vice President Jejomar Binay, who was tasked to confront the vexing question of where and how the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos should be laid to rest, has been quoted in Manila Bulletin as calling his recommendation to bury Marcos in Ilocos Norte with full military honors a “Solomonic solution” indicates, at the very least, that Binay’s understanding of the Bible is deficient in the extreme. Were he to review the relevant passages in the Old Testament, Binay would discover that the judgment of Solomon—who, by virtue of divine munificence, is supposed to be one of the wisest men in the world—did not result in a formulation that either satisfies or gave justice to no one.

According to the story, which is told in the first book of Kings, Solomon is asked to preside over a dispute between two women, each of whom claimed to be the mother of an infant. Both women lived in the same house, and each, within days of the other, had given birth to a boy. One of the babies, however, died in the night, prompting his mother to switch the corpse for the still-living son of the other woman, who was asleep. As there were no witnesses to the substitution, the women are reduced to trading accusations before the king.

After a moment, Solomon calls for a sword and orders that the remaining infant be cut in two, in order that each mother may receive half, thus settling the issue. It is when one of the women protests at the verdict that Solomon’s true intention is revealed: by threatening the destruction of the child, the king is able to determine which woman is the real mother—the one who would rather see her baby alive, if brought up in the care of another, than killed. “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother,” Solomon declares.

The outcome, it must be emphasized, is not a compromise at all: the Solomonic solution involves neither tortuous hair-splitting nor the invocation of a mythical “middle ground”. Instead, it is a bold move animated by the desire to do the right thing, no matter how apparently impolitic.

To be sure, few problems can be laid to rest quite as quickly or as neatly as that brought before Solomon, but Binay’s proposal for the Marcos burial, despite what he may believe (or professes to believe), merely partakes of the same dangerous, because morally vacuous, logic that led over 200 legislators to sign House Resolution No. 1135, which says that Marcos deserves to be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, owing to his “invaluable service to his country as soldier, writer, statesman, President and Commander-in-Chief”.

Even if Marcos is buried in his native soil rather than in the heroes’ cemetery, he would, following Binay’s plan, still be buried with distinction unearned and undeserved—and, once bestowed, virtually indelible. More, it would propound notions of honor and heroism that are so thoroughly destitute as to become meaningless. What does it imply about ourselves when we seek to memorialize and glorify a man who was unapologetic to his very last breath for the massive graft and corruption, plunder, and human-rights abuses that he orchestrated over the course of two decades in power? Where now is the sword that will cleave political expediency and ineffectual posturing away from responsible, courageous partisanship?

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar teaches with the Literature Department at De La Salle University-Manila, where he teaches art appreciation and literature. He is working toward his master's degree in art studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.