Saturday, April 2, 2011

YCC Critic of the Month: Flaudette May Datuin’s Nowhere Near (On Ganap na Babae)

Nowhere Near

Flaudette May Datuin

Ganap na Babae (Garden of Eden)/Hubo Productions/Rica Arevalo, Ellen Ramos and Sarah Roxas, Directors







Before the film unreeled at the University of the Philippines Film Center on the night of March 8, International Women’s Day, we had to go through a parade of real-life “Ganap na Babae” – women achievers – the sponsoring sorority’s pride: these year’s Ten Outstanding Women of the Nation or TOWN. Images of these beautiful, multi-talented success stories were flashed again and again onscreen. Larger than life, in full color, pretty women in well appointed surroundings flashed alongside those of images of deprivation, the most offensive of which was of a skeletal, perhaps dying child the broadcaster Kara David – one of the awardees - was cradling in her arms. It was part of a series of pictures showing the awardee in her social work among poor communities. As the film finally unreeled after a tedious mini TOWNs awarding ceremony, more offensive images followed, but the one that made me squirm all the more was that of the “Cannes Most Beautiful Actress” being “gang raped” beautifully in all her voluptuous glory amidst and wrapped in linen of screaming red – the image that happens to be on the film’s publicity poster.

Rape aestheticized, violence made tender, women as a spectacular objects transforming themselves into sight, and in the case of the skeletal child, a success story fed by poverty. Private troubles transformed into a freak show. In other words, what reeled before me was yet another example of so-called indie film staple: the “obscenification of life,” a term I borrow from Martin Amis via the sociologist Les Back, who describes the condition as one that leads to a kind of “moral cannibalism” wherein the viewer is “invited to nourish their moral probity by consuming images of badness, crime, vulgarity and degeneracy” – in short, poverty porn.

Crackling with controversy and salacious details, the film abounds with fast food clich├ęs rehashed through an intrusive empiricism framed by revelation (e.g. the whore’s confessional), and an excess of picture perfect moments. Texture is flattened and glossed with belabored and drawn out scenes of creaking pumps, and other forms of pumping implied and explicit, fodder for “kilig” moments such as Boots Anson-Roa’s much-touted bed scene. We knew the bottom line, the destination, but the directors took a long time telling the tired story, inflicting us with contrived shots better off as stills, bad transitions, sloppy sound and visual cues and overall bad editing. As a fellow viewer-YCC critic Tessa Guazon puts it after emerging from the experience with a migraine, the cinematic telling was “nowhere near ’ganap’ as we waited for things to happen…the film spelled everything out for the audience but there was nothing to expect, no sense of anticipation. “

The delectable whore is always abused and battered; the probinciana is always hungry and pining to be a mail order bride and coming home in a box; the fading middle class matrona is always lonely and sex-starved enough to be a “cougar” – a role that is hyped as an out of the box first for the goody two shoes “legendary” Boots Anson Roa – herself a TOWNS awardee of long ago, as she pointed out in her speech before the screening. These are the “ganap na babae” of Philippine cinema, reel and real. From the past century to the present, being a “ganap na babae” is synonymous with women’s preordained destinations as temptresses, sinners, pining virgins, abused mothers and saints in the Garden of Eden and where “ganap” is not a form of coming into being, a process of fulfilling a potential, but as “Pilipinas,” the whore, abandoned by her children, penniless, spent. At the end of the day, International Women’s Day: a parade of success stories, a film by women about women, women at a dead-end but nowhere near.

Flaudette May Datuin is Associate Professor, Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines. Young Critics Circle Member, Founding editor of Ctrl+P, Digital Journal of Contemporary Art (www.ctrlp-artjournal.org). 2008 Visiting Fellow, the Australian National University; Visiting Research Fellow, 2010-2013, University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia); Asian Public Intellectuals fellow (2005); Asian Scholarship Foundation Fellow (2004). Author: Home Body Memory: Filipina Artists in the Visual Arts (2002, UP Press) and Editor, Alter/(n)ations: The Art of Imelda Cajipe Endaya (2010), UP Press.