Monthly Archives: October 2012

Staying Alive, Barely

Review: Last Viewing (dir. Roni Bertubin, 2009)

Flaudette May V. Datuin

On the surface, Laura Estrellado is stoic, pragmatic, sensible, at times even heartless, and emotion-less (pusong bato, pusong bakal, walang puso). Yet, she is made to go through several events that are so overwhelming, so overflowing with affect they can sicken anyone, but more acutely so for a mother with a child, whose affliction (Autism Spectrum Disorder) – tellingly in the case of the missing Heidi – renders her unable to communicate, consigning her to a position outside language, where she teeters on the edge (saling pusa), if not entirely outside the margins of the social. Thus, beyond the surface, Laura is a traumatized woman and it would have been much simpler for a performer like Janice de Belen – a child of Flor de Luna, the histrionic soap opera of my childhood – to portray such toxicity by resorting to hysterics, or your garden variety, melodramatic fainting spells and endless weeping.  But such stereotypical acting repertoire does not fit Laura’s kind of trauma; her trauma does not spring from cataclysmic, highly visible, historical events such as war, disaster, genocide. Instead, they occur repetitively, privately, in the everyday. The death of a child in the dead of night on a grassy field has become “ordinary,” statistically normative and “normal,” the stuff of trivia, tabloid and indie films in the poverty porno genre. So ordinary has this unspeakable crime become that it could happen or could have happened to anyone, including Laura’s missing “special child,” as terrifyingly dramatized in a scene at the mortuary. Through it all, save for occasional scenes of restrained breakdowns, Laura  may come across as in control; however, such restraint may be a symptom of pathology, of psychic numbing, of self-blame and loss of hope, of avoidance and withdrawal, of warding off the breakdown, in order to stay alive, albeit with very little hope and life, if at all.

The film’s narrative is itself symptomatic of prolonged avoidance and withdrawal, mis-identifications and mis-recognitions, evident in many instances. First, there was Heidi, the silent social “saling pusa,” and then she was excised from the life of the biological mother, taking the “family secret” of bodily disorder with her, in effect cutting if off from the original gene pool and grafting it onto another. When Heidi died, the unruly affliction died with her, preventing further propagation and social contamination; the adoptive family is “spared” from future problems, but at the same time, benefited from the joy that the child gave them in her brief life. The next time we see her from the moment her mother lost her, she is no longer Heidi (hiding), but Rochelle, the beloved child in a well-appointed adoptive home. In the final scene, she reverts to Heidi (for the biological mother), while remaining as Rochelle (for the adoptive mother), but this time metaphorically, cinematically and literally embalmed and laid out for final viewing.

When Heidi vanished from Laura’s life, she disappeared into obscurity; she, along with her affliction, drifted into a state of absent and silent presence in her mother’s life, and vice-versa. It was as though the self has gone missing for both mother and daughter, with their presence characterized by lack. The mother, like daughter, “disappears” throughout the film, many times obliterated and written off in the lives of her loved ones: as an abandoned lover forced to keep and raise a “special child” all by herself, as a disowned wayward daughter driven out of a dysfunctional home, as a resentful breadwinner-sister and estranged daughter “abandoned” by a sick, dying and later deceased father, by a brother forced to work abroad, and finally by a daughter who goes missing at a crucial moment when the mother lets down her guard and vigilance (nakalingat). Mired in a life barely lived, Laura has come to a point when she cannot even have space in her life for romantic love, or maybe romance has no space for her. Whatever chance or glimpse of one was quickly nipped in the bud in a comedic scene that initially looked like a date: Laura was wooed, not as a potential lover, but as a surrogate mother/ matrimonial godmother (ninang sa kasal).

For Laura and Heidi, insidious, persistent trauma plays out in a series of losses, leavings and failures – a life marked by unfortunate choices, decisions, chance and fate. Resorting to self-blame, with others joining in (the neighbor who chastises her for bringing the child to Baclaran, the brother who takes her to task for “merely” bringing in the money but not “really” caring for the father, the aunt who chides her for being emotionless), Laura describes herself as a failed mother, lover, daughter, sister, provider, and even at certain points, the potential failed worker, always under threat of being suspended, demoted, or fired. So toxic are the conditions that Laura cannot help but succumb to the pathology and weight of trauma, at certain key incidents: mistaking “good news” sent from her brother’s cell phone as good news about Heidi when it was actually news of the brother’s successful application for and impending departure for Saudi, then proceeding to see things and imagine Heidi back to life, matter and flesh. In yet another terrifying breakdown scene, a cell phone has gone missing at the workplace, and everyone was asked to open their bags, which Laura resisted. When she reluctantly surrendered to the inspection after much persuasive pressure, what was revealed was not proof of theft, or lack of it (the cell phone was later found, and it was established as merely misplaced, not stolen), but evidence of an extreme private anguish. Unfolded for everybody’s gaze was the dress she asked her daughter to try on at the store where her mother last saw her alive (save for a brief glimpse that looked like a case of mis-identification). It was the dress she was supposed to wear for her “graduation” from the daycare where she was unofficially enrolled (saling pusa), along with the medal awarding her as the class’s Most Quiet, an ironic take – the good behavior actually springs from the child’s inability to process thought and emotion into language, an idea, a memory.

Beyond the linguistic and communicative, it is objects and their social lives – cell phones and wallets lost and found, dresses worn and touched, ash in a canister and zip-lock, toys as objects of autistic fixation – that bear the weight of trauma and its negotiation. The central site of this negotiation is the crematorium, locus of an affective economy, hinged on providing intangible products and services, such as wellness and ease to the bereaved. These intangibles are made concrete and manifest through the respectful but distanced labor of love dispensed by Laura and her co-workers. It is labor in “bodily mode,” as Michael Hardt puts it, where the economic, the material and prosaic are elevated to the level of human contact and interactions (or what Lauren Berlant refers to as public intimacies), of empathy, sentiment, and even of the occasional comedy and painful irony.

It was extremely unbearable for instance, to witness a mother reuniting with her long lost loved one in death, and watch her perform cremation rites for that child, on behalf of a paying client, who considers the dead child her own. Laid out in a state of arrested decay, the remains stand as evidence of trauma, which the laborer-mother works through via what she repeatedly, almost automatically intones as the Last Viewing. “Viewing” in this space of negotiation is a process that involves not just seeing but of gut feel (kutob), particularly of maternal gut feeling and sensing of muscle, skin tone, texture,  birthmarks, and bone. The final viewing prolongs the maternal moment, yet another instance of avoidance, but is also actually a working-through of pain and grief, before the final surrender.

In that last viewing, the mother overlays the client’s video remembrances and testimonies with her own secret and silent rites of memorializing enacted through the laying over and enfolding of clothing she once carried everywhere as charm, as sign, as zone of comfort. And perhaps reluctantly learning from the manghuhula summoned by a well-meaning, but endearingly irritating aunt, and who divined Heidi’s condition (alive, in good hands, but ailing) through the feel and touch of her graduation dress, Laura subsequently kept the dress close to her person wherever she went, as aid to activating and intensifying her maternal kutob, and to accessing a “memory” that is irretrievable under ordinary circumstances, and one that can be made available to us – the silent last viewers/voyeurs –  “post-mortem,” through the embalming power of film. After prolongation of the maternal moment comes the separation, the relinquishing of the body and its consignment to the cleansing power of fire, with Laura presiding over the organic matter’s transformation into ash.

Then comes the moment of final surrender, of doing what needs to be done – the turning over of the canister containing most of the ashes (Laura kept some for herself in a zip-lock, another instance of avoidance through comic relief, of cracking a joke to ward off the breakdown). In the film’s cruelest, yet most exhilarating cut, we witness two strangers, two m/others unknowingly becoming intimate across a space of shared trauma. It is an encounter which we and the dramatis personae are probably trying to avoid, but which must take place, and which we must wit(h)ness through and in the film’s humanizing space. Laura is brought back to life through Janice de Belen, the sterling performer, and presides over a rite of working-through, easing her daughter’s and her self’s passage from a life, barely lived to the hopes and promises of an after-life, here and beyond.

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Posted by on 13 October 2012 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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No Respite

Review: Last Supper No. 3 (dir. Veronica Velasco, 2009)

Eileen Legaspi Ramirez

Beinte Singko Mil Productions’s Last Supper No. 3 lines up alongside the plethora of Filipino films that frame social malaise amidst a farcical justice system.  Other films that easily come to mind are undeniably weightier tomes such as Parola, Correctional, Mga Bulaklak sa City Jail, Angela Markado and the three Flor Contemplacion-referencing films of the late ’90s.  Apart from the dramatic genre, dysfunctional justice has similarly enabled such action-slasher potboilers like the Anak ni Baby Ama franchise and Carlo Caparas’s pseudo-social commentaries mining high-profile cases from court dockets brimming with tales of judicious mishandling.  In many ways, getting injustice unto film is very old hat.  That writers Veronica Velasco and Jinky Laurel opt to foist a laugh track unto Last Supper No. 3, with its darkly humorous slant, was their novel contribution to an otherwise tired story.

The film hinges upon how a middling production designer attempts to extract himself from a work-related faux pas set off by a run of the mill production about canned meat that supposedly immobilizes the consumer’s capacity to remember what’s just been said or thought.  As shooting proceeds, Wilson Naniawa loses a borrowed prop (a kitschy Last Supper wall hanging passed over amidst a bevy of hopefuls sourced from an urban hood).  Naniawa and his production assistant are taken to task—first through the barangay conciliation panel and ultimately all the way through the civil and then criminal courts.

Outrightly marketed as comedy, Last Supper No. 3 quickly disabuses viewers of the notion that any film traipsing around social themes is undeniably bidding for critical heft.  In truth, Naniawa makes no play for bigger issues—all he seems to want is to keep at a job which he apparently takes pride in even if demands something as banal as twirling toothpaste on a brush so that it preens photogenically in the interest of ad copy infamy.

Having established very early on that this is indeed a film of unheroic ambitions, we are taken through the tragic-comic ride that Naniawa is made to submit himself to in exchange for getting on with life as he simplistically envisions it.  Expectedly, he grins and bears all that is thrown his way—from street-smart adversaries egged on by an action junkie cop, untransmitted and thus unrecognized settlements, flooded out premises, hearing postponements, menacingly compounding lawyer appearance fees, overeager court translators, to his own botched albeit rehearsed testimony.  In the end, after having dragged himself through several adjutants who either die on him, are on the take, or clearly more interested in matters external to resolving his plight, our lead Naniawa, makes the grand yet still token gesture,   exasperatedly doing harm upon that deadening instrument of mass media (his aunt’s TV set) which his trade symbolically and literally feeds upon, and through which his daily pandering of superficiality blasts from.   Fully implicating himself in this sordid dis-order of things, Naniawa resignedly embodies how middle class comeuppance makes for null triumph in and out of the courts.

And this then ultimately brings us to ask–who is laughing at whom in this slick, if at times still slapstick, ‘true-to-life’ romp through the alienated and alienating halls of Philippine justice?  Given that even the supposed survivor of this misadventure, the anti-hero Naniawa, openly expresses how he finds his victory hollow–the discomfort giving way to pity for his adversaries who’d sought to even the odds their way–who does in fact, get the last laugh here?  Very much like the absurdist instances of unwelcome reprieve in the judicial process, and the mental pauses visited upon the film’s memory-disabled eaters of Argentina corned beef, there is still only, merely fleeting relief in Last Supper No. 3 for cravings rumbling from a still largely unsatiated gut.

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Posted by on 13 October 2012 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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‘Engkwentro’: Like most Pinoy indie films, it is about poverty; unlike most Pinoy indie films, it does not feast on poverty

Review: Engkwentro (dir. Pepe Diokno, 2009)

Eulalio R. Guieb III

I consider Engkwentro one of the most significant Filipino films of the first decade of the 21st century, particularly in the context of the failure of independent films in the country to counter the discourses of the holders of unjustified power and wealth in contemporary Philippine society. Engkwentro is about poverty, like most contemporary indie films; unlike many indie films, however, the film does not feast on poverty.  It counters the discourse about poverty peddled around by contemporary films – coming from both the commercial film industry and the independent film movement – and, irrationally, by the government itself.  The film’s political discourse about poverty has a more significant bearing on the current state of the country than what has been achieved by any other films among its contemporaries.

Many representations in our current output of films dwell on poverty, but only the face value of poverty, which is mainly about its economic aspects: lack of access to basic human necessities such as food, shelter, education and medical services; and lack of access to opportunities to improve one’s current economic standing.  This understanding of poverty is, undeniably, true. Everything about this portrayal of poverty in Filipino films is close to verisimilitude – and often epical in scope.  Perhaps, the images are sometimes more real than the empirical.  Or, in many cases, they are more romantic than the actual, more exotic than the mundane, more filmic on camera than the perceptions of the human eye and mind.  I have apprehensions about these representations, and I tend to disagree with most of these renditions.

My concern lies on the failure of both independent films and commercial films to represent the nature of what is represented.  I ask not about the truth of the represented poverty, but about the truthfulness of the nature of the “filmed” and the agency of those with the least power – or those consigned to the lowest rung in the ladder of power – to do something about their situation.

While most representations are successful in portraying images of poverty, there is, I argue, a crisis in the representation by Filipino independent films of the nature of our poverty.  I contend that much of the poverty that we experience as a country is created less by the people than the institutions of government itself.  In other words, the country’s poverty is a creation by the government.  This state-sponsored poverty shapes the nature of social networks and the character of social relations.  The government derives much of its legitimacy from the construction of poverty.  In this regard, poverty, while primarily social, is understandably political.  The political nature of poverty is the kind of poverty that most – almost all – Filipino independent films fail to recognize and explore intelligently.  These films’ failure to understand and examine the political character of poverty is the tragedy of contemporary independent films in the country today.

I ask where in our films we get a sense of the political nature of the represented poverty.  What do these films say about state-sponsored poverty?  How do they interrogate – if they do – the socially constructed images and practices of what I call ‘government-installed poverty’?  Is it enough to re-present various nuanced images of poverty in the context of a relatively safer political environment, particularly in relation to previous political dispensations, specifically relative to the political repression of the Marcos dictatorship?

I assert that two distinct and contrasting trends characterize how Filipino independent films tend to portray poverty in Philippine society today.  First, poverty in these films is treated as a social phenomenon with no clear identification of the intricate and complex structural causes of the circumstances in which the impoverished are immersed.  This is the track that most Filipino indie films tend to take.  Second, a few films suggest that poverty is a political phenomenon, i.e., they provide indications of the involvement of the state in the “creation” and “construction” of poverty.  These two trends, I argue, provide the main taxonomic difference – a significant divide – between and amongst contemporary independent films in terms of portraying and “exhibiting’ poverty in the country.  Most films, including the highly revered Kinatay by Brillante Mendoza, belong to the first category.  Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro belongs to the second category.  I prefer the trajectory taken by Diokno.  I argue that the major difference between the two films in terms of discursive practice provides a distinctive divide in terms of classifying and redefining contemporary independent films in the country.

Undeniably remarkable about Kinatay is the rendition of the brutal slaughtering of humans as a regular and reasonable form of underground economy in the country.[1] The perpetrators and victims of this economic livelihood are the poor, masterminded by market-influenced drug pushers, and assisted by state police.  In the film, they botch inexpertly, but the kill yields attractive results, i.e., the murderers get a chance to fulfill their dream to buy the latest model of a much-desired cell phone, the leaders remain nameless and unidentified, the witness comprehends the clear yet inhuman puzzle but maintains his righteousness by remaining silent and numb, and the dead nourishes the worms of the city’s undersides.  Butchering humans becomes as legitimate as political dynasties, jueteng, drug dealing, prostitution, money laundering, loan sharks, etc.  But beyond all this, the film does not provide us with an indication of the political character of this very unsettling phenomenon.

Like most films dealing with the issue of poverty, the underbelly of the nation lies in its own heart: gangsters in the named and unnamed places in Manila and in booming cities in the regional satellites of power; petty snatchers of cellphones, wallets, electronic equipment and all sorts of wares, to police-supported criminals, abductors and death squads; police officers whose work involves drug dealing; religious groups, politicians, state officials and their fanatics converging in places like Quiapo and Luneta – indeed, an unholy alliance of the blessed and the dubious, the honourable and the disreputable, the institutionalized and the emergent  – all hopeful of the largesse they expect to gain from their networks and industries of redemption and hope; men and women, the old and the young, children and soon-to-be-adults, friends and acquaintances, kin and fictive relations, straight and gay – all depicted as almost always preoccupied with sex, which they carry out in the most “unusual”, or “permissible”, or “hidden”, or “open” crevices of the city; the urban poor who are both recipients and victims of government corruption and neglect; bonds of friendships premised on a swiftly swinging pendulum of loyalty and distrust; a city plastered with election posters, notices of redemption by evangelical groups, and a cacophony of dizzying traffic signs and cordial or coarse reminders about cleanliness; and a parade of innumerable portraits of what are often associated with economic poverty – all in the holy name of cinematic rendition by self-blessed indie filmmakers.

In Engkwentro, however, poverty is only partly social.  Poverty in Engkwentro is mainly political.   It is the film’s portrayal of the political character of poverty that distinguishes it from most, almost all, Filipino films that call themselves independent.

Outstanding about Engkwentro is its recasting of a decaying urban life within the scaffolds of political frames that clearly indicate the state’s response toward poverty: national terrorism.  The maze of the constraining urban space of the rejects of an axiomatic city is turned into a prison cell where escape seems improbable.  The “provincial” city is pulled into – or born out of – the network of national corruption, unjust power and social decay.  The omniscient voice of a recognized “dictator” and the invocation of Marcos’s national anthem for his New Society – a call to national unity practised during the regime as subservience to authoritarianism and despotism – implicate the political covariance of poverty and terrorism, not in the past but in our present.  The higher the incidence of poverty is, the higher the inclination of the state to respond in violent ways.  Interestingly, both poverty and terrorism emanate from the state and circulate around the state’s subjects and citizens.  In the film, terrorism by the state becomes a valid response to counter poverty.  The dream by the poor to escape from their misery is aborted by the state and its gun-wielding and trigger-happy vigilantes.  Like in many independent films, the city is a prison, and the people end up either dead or helpless.  Unlike many independent films, Engkwentro implicates the political into the social, however.  This, I repeat, marks the divergence of Engkwentro from its contemporaries.

I submit that in recasting the poverty of the Filipino people in indie films, we – filmmakers and audiences alike – need to interrogate our place in the country’s current political and cultural struggle – and for whom, and why, we need to articulate and pursue this position.  If these films – and the framework that guides our reading of these films – if all these do not fit into the alliance of communities of knowledge and interests based on social justice, the independent in independent filmmaking – in other words, our indiehood, our indiegeneity – is a misnomer.  In my view, we do not deserve our indiehood or our indiegeneity as filmmakers, or as film critics, or as film viewers if our positions are no different from the discourse of the current holders of political power whose development agenda disregard social justice for the marginalized.  In this sense, our indiehood, our indiegeneity is a negation of the nationhood of the powerless or those with the least power.

I now ask, where in these two directions lies our indiehood?  Where will our indiegeneity lead us?  For how long will we be fascinated voyeurs of poverty?  I sincerely hope independent filmmakers will take the cue from Engkwentro.


[1]<> A friend, Choy Pangilinan, brought to my attention the concept of human butchering in the Philippines as a new form of underground economy, during the screening and discussion of Kinatay in its Philippine premiere at the U.P. Film Center on 30 July 2009.

*Image from Pelikula Tumblr

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Posted by on 13 October 2012 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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Diyalektika ng Ingay at Katahimikan sa ‘Biyaheng Lupa’

Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr.

Ano kaya kung maririnig natin ang mga iniisip ng ibang tao? Ano ang mga ibubunyag nila? Siyempre pa ang mga personal na pangarap, pagnanasa, lungkot, at ligaya. Higit sa lahat, mailalantad sa atin ang mga hindi kagandahang saloobin at opinyon ng ibang tao sa kaniyang kapuwa. Ito ang sentral na estratehiya at ekspresyon ng diwa ng pelikulang Biyaheng Lupa (2009) ni Armando Lao.

Mataas ang ekspektasyon ng maraming manonood sa “guru” ng maraming manunulat para sa pelikulang Filipino. Magtatagumpay kaya si Lao sa pagdidirihe ng sariling iskrip? Bida ang tunog at ang pabigkas na salita dito sa pelikula. Lagi namang ganito sa mga pelikula sasabihin natin; pero espesyal kasi ang gamit dito. Hindi ang publikong utterance (isinasapubliko ng midyum) ang inihaharap kundi ang interyoridad ng kamalayan ng bawat protagonista. Solilokuwe o internal na monologo ang nakatanghal. Pero sa lakbay-kuwentong ito, hindi solo ng sinuman ang akto kundi salimbayang isinasagawa ng halos lahat ng pasahero ng bus na biyaheng Legazpi sa Bikol. Sa loob ng anim na oras na paglalakbay, naitanghal ang drama ng mga tauhan:asawang pinag-iisipan kung maligaya siya sa piling ng kabiyak; anak na nanghihinawa sa pag-aalaga sa may-sakit na ina; ampong anak na dadalaw sa puntod ng tunay na ina, lalaking nahuhumaling sa pyramid scheme; lolang bagong laya sa Bilibid; amang hindi malimutan ang naaksidenteng anak; baklang naghahanap ng makaka-sex; panganay na anak na nagtatampo sa amang higit na paborito ang kapatid; nagtataksil na matronang may-asawa; kapatid na pinalaya/s ng sariling ate; manlalaro ng scrabble na napagdiskitahan ang earring ng kasamang pasahero, atbp—na napagsala-salabid ni Lao sa isang tila karaokeng performans.

Sa klostropobikong daigdig sa loob ng bus, parang mga aktibong elemento ang mga pasahero: sumisiklab sa sansaglit na engkuwentro ng tinginan, sandaling kumbersasyon, hiraman ng cell phone, at bulgar na pagkakaamuyan. May nag-isnaban, nagkasakitan, at mayroon namang umabot sa posibilidad ng pagmamahalan. Pero sa mga mabilisang simula at wakas , ang bawat isa’y nagpatuloy sa kani-kaniyang paglalakbay. May nakatagpo ng kaligayahan ngunit ang karamihan ay nananatili sa kanilang pakikipagtunggali sa mga sariling suliranin at obsesyon. Sa ganitong daigdig, nakasentro ang naratibo sa mga nagsasalitang kamalayan. (Hindi kailanman mapipigil ng utak ang awtomatiko at walang tigil na pag-iisip. At sa pag-iisip, walang ibang instrumentong magagamit kundi ang lengguwahe.) Kaugnay nito, matutuon ang pokus ng kamera sa mukha ng mga karakter. Dramatikong mababakas ang nilalaman ng utak sa topograpiya ng mukha. At dahil wala ang lunan ng full set, ang mukha ng mga artista ang gumaganap nang buong implikasyon ng aksiyon.

Hindi dapat kalimutan na ang tainga o pandinig ay hindi maihihiwalay sa iskrin na mukha ng tao. At habang pinanonood ang mga tauhan, ang daloy ng kanilang kaisipan ay tila streaming caption ng kani-kanilang eksena. Kaya nga ba ang tunog ang higit ding pumapapel sa akiyon ng buong pelikula.

Isa itong tagumpay ng alternatibong produksiyon. Sa halip na mag-stage ng magarbong mis-en-scene ng mainstream na pelikula, sa kamalayan ng mga tauhan nagaganap ang lahat ng historiko at sikolohikong kasaysayang mababakas sa mukhang umookupa sa iskrin. Sa ganitong estilo, hinihiling o mas angkop, nambabraso ang palabas ng masinsinang pakikinig kasabay ng matamang pagmamasid sa mumunting kibot ng pisngi at kislap/lamlam ng mata ng mga gumaganap.

Sa kabuuan ng masalitang episodiko bagama’t kawing-kawing na kuwento, nakikipagdiyalektiko ang tunog sa katahimikan na sa katotohana’y tagpuan nitong likha-ng-taong ragasa ng salita. Hindi insidental na “itanim” sa gitna ng matatabil na tauhan ang isang piping tinedyer. Higit na biswal na texting at pagsusulat sa papel ang paraan ng komunikasyon ng pipi sa mga taong nais magpapansin sa kaniyang kamalayan. Kaya sa sandaling ang kamalayan ng pipi ang naka-project sa iskrin, katahimikan ang maririnig. Ibig sabihin, blangko ang sound track para literal at dramatikong ipahiwatig ang hindi pag-iral ng tunog sa kaniyang daigdig. Higit pang naikokontrast nito na para sa iba pang tagpo, may pribilehiyo ang manonood na makapasok sa pinakainteryor ng kamalayan ng mga tauhan.

Pero hindi naman sumasablay ang paglalahad upang tumawid sa pagiging drama sa radyo, bagama’t may mga sandali na tila tumatawid na dito ang mga eksena. Mabuti at hindi nalilimutang magtulungan ang oral/awral sa biswal. Sa naratibo ng babaeng nakaitim, nagdaramdam ang anak sa kaniyang ama dahil naniniwala siyang mas mahal ng ama ang nakababatang kapatid. Pero sa hindi inaasahan, may paruparong nakapasok sa loob ng bus at lumikwad-likwad sa ibabaw ng lahat ng pasahero. Natuwa ang isang bata sa pagkaganda-gandang tanawin na para naman sa nakatatanda ay isang simbolo ng presensiya ng kaluluwa ng isang pumanaw. Dumapo at humimpil sa hita ng babaeng nakaitim ang paruparo na sukat niyang ikaluha sapagkat naisip niyang pahiwatig iyon ng ama na hindi siya dapat managhili sa kapatid. Mahal din siya ng kaniyang ama.

May mga ganitong diyalektika ng pasalita at biswal (na katahimikan) na pagsasalikupan ang mga naratibo. At hahantong ito sa pinal na eksena ng pelikula sa pagsuong ng karamihan ng pasahero (bumaba na ang iba) sa pinakadakilang katahimikan sa lahat, ang kamatayan. Kahit sa huling mga freym ng pelikula, mahihiwatigan na ang tunog ang naghahatid sa kaluluwa patungo sa eternal na pananahimik. Ang pandinig ang pinakahuling pandama na naglalaho sa pagdidilim ng kamalayan ng tao tungo sa kaniyang pagtawid sa kabilang buhay. Ang biyaheng lupa ay siya na ring biyaheng langit.

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Posted by on 13 October 2012 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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Methods of Melancholy

Review: Bakal Boys (dir. Ralston Jover, 2009)

by J. Pilapil Jacobo

The habit of locating the landscape of the new cinema in almost every destitute milieu in the metropolis raises the ethical concern of what remains to be told when scenographic procedures, in their absolute exposure of urban poor indignity, almost always preclude subjects from essaying a human position against and in spite of their social predicament. The poor have nothing left to say in poverty pornography. The subaltern is denied of all chance to reside in in the social circuits of language, and participate in the militant struggle for a better life, as a figure of—in Native American literary critic Gerald Vizenor’s terms—“survivance.”

And yet, Bakal Boys seems to exhibit a behavior that departs from the exercises of screen exoticisms. The film premises its deviations on the question of grief, and asks whether one could still mourn when survival, particularly its material possibility, is always already a deplorable social condition. How does a character grieve when sentiments are not permitted to seep into the system, to take even the form of a “structure of feeling”? When persons seek emotional closure within this economic order, what sentimental practices are laid out as the markers of collapse and recovery?

In the case of Ralston Jover’s piece, what remains compelling in the setting up of the scenes of impoverishment is a spectrum of melancholic methods that bereaved subjects employ, because the loss can only be worked through in intimate terms.

Bungal (Vincent Olano) disappears during an expedition of a band of Baseco boys to look for an anchor that older divers have left behind after finding a sunken boat. Of a temperament almost too intense for his age, Bungal believes in mermaids who could offer one a felicitous streak of luck. He also tells of his seaside town where fishermen may never return from sea. We see him drawing on the sand crosses simulating that tropical cemetery. Knowing the fanciful and the deathly, Bungal must depart from the narrative to give way to the choreographic instances of bereavement when the situation is routinely proposed as desensitizing and its random characters far from sensitive performers, if not at all sensate subjects.

Two figures of mourning are to be examined as species born and raised from Bungal’s disappearance.

The first is already familiar, for it is tense, vigorous, histrionic. And although there is space to repeating the gestures of the abandoned kin, Gina Pareño, as the grandmother who offers it all up to Allah, may perhaps be the last in the lineage of this figure of anxiety. Hysteria is of course curbed in the depiction, to be fair to Ms. Pareño, but we feel this species of traumaturgy has reached a final phase; her body of grief interprets the phrases of entreaty to be translatable as nervous postures in the face of mortality.

Utoy (Meljun Ginto), best friend of the disappeared, demonstrates the other figure of mourning, because he is made to speak for a subject considered alien to such emotive exchanges. What does a child know of that abyss, loneliness? The figure that exposes us as unbelievers is that of patience. Utoy awaits the return of his friend as much as he anticipates an understanding of the disappearance itself. He searches for him at various sites of the friendship: in the alleys of their mischief, and by the shores of their play. When the waiting ends, this figure marks the sand as cemeterial, as the ground of the leave-taking. All this he must ritualize in silence, which is only broken when she seeks out Nanay Salvia, for an embrace. And how can one read that final frame? That immersion into the waters of the bay may teach us about survivance—into an age of iron of what could be a man of steel at last, even with that speechless body.

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Posted by on 13 October 2012 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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What Doesn’t Make a Man

Review of This Guy’s In Love With U Mare! (dir. Wenn Deramas)

Skilty Labastilla

Let’s cut to the chase: This Guy’s In Love With U Mare! is shrill, unfunny, and disturbing.

Vice Ganda plays Lester, a beauty salon owner who has been in a three-year relationship with Mike (Luis Manzano). When Lester forces Mike to propose marriage to him, Mike breaks up with him because he has converted to a new religion that forbids homosexual relationships. Lester is devastated. When he finds out later that Mike is seeing a girl named Gemma (Toni Gonzaga), Lester vows revenge by pretending to be straight so he can woo Gemma and break off her relationship with Mike, who he hopes will come back to his arms again.

The plot, though highly improbable, is not the problem: it’s how simplistically and haphazardly Deramas and co-writers treat their characters. You don’t believe for a second that these are flesh-and-blood people: they are cardboard cutouts manipulated by the scriptwriters’ strings. For instance, it’s never shown why Lester would hastily decide on doing a risky undertaking just for somebody who he barely even knows: it is intimated that throughout their three-year relationship, Mike is pretty much an absentee boyfriend and his only motive for staying in the relationship is because his education was sponsored by Lester. But he does anyway. Why? Maybe the sex is good? But we don’t know that for sure because we’re never told. He just has to get Mike back because the script says so.

Mike does not realize (even if it’s obvious) that Gemma’s parents don’t want him to be their daughter’s partner. He endures the humiliation of never being invited to sit down at Gemma’s family dinners. But he stays. Why? Because the script says so.

Gemma is shown to slowly fall in love with Lester because 1) he beat up four people to save her, and 2) he took her to an Aegis/April Boy concert. That’s it. So she kisses him (or so she thinks) on her front porch and conveniently forgets that she has a boyfriend. Even if there’s zero chemistry between them, Gemma has to fall in love with Lester. Why? BECAUSE THE SCRIPT SAYS SO.

But the film’s bigger sins, in my opinion, has little to do with its filmmaking and everything to with its peddling of disturbing messages. I list down three:

1. To be deemed as a straight man, one has to be physically violent.

To impress Gemma, Lester had to pretend-maul his friends who made like masked robbers about to victimize Gemma. They got her bag, but instead of running to save her life, she watched for at least five minutes as Lester pretended to beat the crap out of his friends. When Lester was done, she thanks her knight-in-shining-and-shimmering-armor and brings him to meet the parents, who were equally impressed with his fighting skills, unlike those of Gemma’s “lampa boyfriend”.

When Lester and Gemma go to a comedy bar, the gay hosts immediately outed Lester. He took the hosts backstage, told them that he needs to pretend to be straight, so he mauled the hosts onstage, and everyone in the bar, including Gemma, was happy because he has proved his manhood.

A related incident is when Mike and Lester are in the zoo. Mike, having been fed up with Lester’s entreaties to become his boyfriend again, punches Lester in the gut and locks him inside a tiger’s lair. And the audience is supposed to laugh. Does this finally stop Lester from pursuing Mike? Of course not. It only makes him more determined. If that isn’t a reinforcement of a twisted tolerance for abusive relationships, I don’t know what is.

2. Making fun of people whose looks do not meet society’s standards of beauty is completely OK.

A constant butt of jokes is a character who is dark-skinned, short, snub-nosed, and has a pockmarked face. This is actually the type of humor that is commonly found in our country’s comedy bars, where Vice Ganda began his career. It’s utterly childish and superficial.

3. Gay men will lust after every young man they see. They just can’t help it. It’s in their nature.

When Lester fetches Gemma from home so he can bring her to her office, he suddenly sees a group of young, sweaty men on the street. He ditches his date so he can hang out with the guys (who don’t know him). There are many more scenes just like that: Lester blissing out in a men’s locker room, Lester playing basketball with Gemma’s brother so he can feel him up, etc.

This is not to say that these scenarios don’t happen in the real world. But what’s dangerous is it reinforces the stereotype of gay men as voracious sexual predators. Vice Ganda is arguably the most well-known gay man in the country. With great power comes great responsibility, Spiderman tells us. Vice didn’t write the script, yes, but he has the power to suggest revisions to the script to avoid negative portrayals of gays in movies.

If blockbuster movies are like windows to a nation’s soul, Filipinos should be scared. Star Cinema does not need your money. If you’re planning to watch this, do yourself a favor and give your P180 instead to someone who needs it. Your soul will be much happier.


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Posted by on 12 October 2012 in Film Review


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