The Young Critics Circle has rescheduled the 2013 Awards Ceremony to September 3, 3 PM at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Historian Dr. Francis Gealogo will be guest speaker.
Monthly Archives: August 2013
Despite the cancellation of the Young Critics Circle awarding ceremony on August 20 due to heavy rains and flooding, members made sure to hand trophies to Qiyamah director Teng Mangansakan and editor/sound designer Arnel Barbarona, who were due to fly back to Mindanao the morning after. The group met at a restaurant in Araneta Center.
YCC is targeting September 3rd as the date of the awards rites. We are coordinating with awardees and will confirm here as soon as the date is finalized.
YCC is cancelling the Awards Ceremonies scheduled for today due to incessant rains and flooding across the city. We are coordinating with awardees for the new date and will update accordingly.
J. Pilapil Jacobo
It is rather amusing that Ekstra can imagine the debacle of its cinema as something like a most excessive accomplishment.
The plot tracks the forlorn effort of Loida, a “talent,” to follow her star, in spite of the culture industry that reduces her aspirations to a “fee” that would allow her daughter to finish college. That the screenplay had chosen to zero in on the commodity fetish of stardom through that figure of the “extra” is nothing novel. Neither is the critique of the photography that creates the mass media aura that entitles a consciousness to misrecognize the falsity as authentic spirit. Recent pretenses which allowed the exploitation of thespian Eugene Domingo and horror genre veteran Lilia Cuntapay need to be mentioned here, less for citing advance guard aesthetics in these parts than for iterating the futility of archiving a vapid independent filmography. Joji Alonso, Charo Santos-Concio, and Laurice Guillen can only be mistaken in assuming that a form of immanent critique is possible from their megalomaniac machineries. And Jeffrey Jeturian is no longer the filmmaker that can perform the role of a critic, much less that of an immanent imagineer. He has lost all manner of intimacy with an idea and dexterity with the image.
The writing sounds so pedestrian in its attempt to be contemporary, and the direction that intervenes in this foolhardy reportage can only be impoverished. The style is culled straight from the comedy club, a colleague quips. Now wonder it can elicit the most vulgar amusement from an alumnus of the bar who has joined the gallery of freaks entrenched in a prominent media company. The film narrates and describes the market compromises a soap opera production unit needs to internalize to survive the etiquette of commodity. This cinema’s choice to inscribe itself through televisual form cannot be argued to be strategic. Bereft of conscientious humor that casts irony as a “principle of structure,” the joke is on the signature, comedy. Not even the high camp that is delivered by performers such as Cherie Gil and Pilar Pilapil can prevent the thought that comes after the failure of critique: television has reduced film to a narcissistic implement. This is hardly the cinema that is purported to thrive in self-reflexive practice.
The figure in question, the “extra,” should have been inspiring enough to yield a neo-realist argument on a crisis of cinematic representation in the post-colony mired in “combined and uneven development.” The“extra” should have performed a project of arresting articulation from the mass media product that is the “star” by letting herself act out the intellect of her marginal visibility. Stardom could have been laid bare as the surfeit of appearance in an exposure of the superfluous violence on the body hoping to be rescued from disposable labor and negligible talent. Instead, what the film does to this figure is fashion her into a victim of the predatory methods of a third world capitalist media outfit whose work ethic is based on product placements and the bonuses released for those who perpetuate this licence. She is subjected to the minutiae of abuse, which includes the defiles of slapstick. The productive possibility of allowing her to foreground the agency of the underside is annulled by exploiting the bathos of such a displacement. As a consequence,the argument on the extra as that irreducible—indeed the supplement that is no longer the addition, nor the replacement, in an anatomy of the motion picture that runs on delirium tremens—all that disintegrates among the debris of directorial neglect. The extra remains an aspect of the dismissible, almost the nil. Her humanity must be subtracted for fumbling over Anglophone legalese in a final confrontation scene. In an industry that favors the labors of antipathy, her fault is the sensible failure of a mechanical delivery.
Vilma Santos, whose star’s premise encompasses age, climate,even time itself, portrays this “extra.” It is time to report that the brilliance has failed. The consistency of her light years has been credited to a vigor whose basis is melodramatic competence. With the genre demolished at primetime, every night of our lives, the actress looks dissipated in the rehearsal, and what she can afford to muster is a middling energy. There was a time when her powers largely depended on this “extra,” which can be derived from the “over-” in her “overacting.” Even without training from the Peking Opera, Santos repeated this shrill technique from one project to another, for the manner somehow worked at the box office. Manner became the mannerism that launched a star most distantiated from the repertoire of an ensemble and the theater of an environment. Ekstra ultimately fails in Santos’s inability to inhabit the supplementation that she has triumphantly supplanted, with total industrial patronage, all these absolutely industrious years. Her “extra” is a “surplus”: a defective product that deserves to be remaindeered. The catatonic performance in last year’s The Healing should have warned us of the affliction in Ekstra. She is never “Loida”; she doesn’t possess the sentimental history to locate the interiority of such victimage. Frame after frame, “Vilma” remains the star who became an actress, by aspiration, then capitalist scheme, and, perhaps, through bureaucratic accident. The only feeling Vilma understands from Loida is despair, having realized that the industry has lost its charms to restore whatever has remained of recognizable talent. We can only hope Santos has known the extent of such violation, with those final eyes of a rather infinite regret.
The Living Dead
JPaul S. Manzanilla
We have seen this before. Poor people are gambling their lives with whatever they have to survive—guts, wit, and bits of sanity that remains. In fact, the scene where Makoy (Kristoffer King) steps on shit recalls the lead character’s same fate in Kubrador (Jeffrey Jeturian 2006), also about the binding connection of illegal gambling and the country’s slums. Those who do public commuting would see the long stretch of saklaan lines on the roads and streets of Caloocan, close to where the film is set and is actually their alternative venue for a wake being planned.
But Oros is not poverty porn. The basic problem with some of those who criticize films that deal with poverty is that they deny poverty whereas the problem with poverty porn films is that they delight in it. Poverty porn ties the poor to the image and enslaves them in it. In Oros, we are given the life of the poor in its utter normalcy. Others would see it as boring, bereft of action. But not necessarily bereft of imagination.
The cloud of smoke that envelops the place and serves as the opening scene would appear mystical but it is this shroud of haziness that the filmic project attempts to clarify. “All that is solid melts into air,” Marx metaphorically says of capitalist relations, and it is the filmmaker’s charge to grasp the liquid condition of human relations before it finally disappears from our sight. And so we see that Makoy dutifully takes charge of renting dead bodies for public wake in order to sponsor gambling; in the process, he trains his brother in the trade, even though the latter hesitates.
A middle class audience would scoff at many scenes, much more when they observe them in real life. Why the temerity to bear children when they can’t even feed themselves? Why lay bets when you don’t have the money to sustain your household? How can we pity and help these people when they swear at their parents, steal money, and fuck and kill one another? The moral economy of the slums does not need our help. And it is this truth which we can’t accept that is the central intelligence disputing the poverty of pornography. For the squatters (Illegal settlers? The urban poor? The underprivileged and deprived?) they make do with whatever they have. With or without us—or even despite us—they will because they must survive.
It is in this light that we learn that didactic proposals to alleviate poverty would fail. The film’s intertextual composing of the reproductive health bill in the radio news being broadcast, though of soft sound, becomes a sonic force that nags at their plight. Its editing also lacks the vibe of the setting, especially in chase scenes where danger is barely felt. What makes up for the film’s lapses are the outstanding performances of Kristoffer King as Makoy and Kristoffer Martin as a lad being prepared for the only job they know. There are also fine points in cinematography, even though many of the scenes are trite. When, at one point, the sea’s vista from the Baseco Compound in the most impoverished area of Manila was shown, we gather that there is still hope amidst all of these.
Yet death has already been foretold. It is the corpse of his brother Abet that Makoy finds in the end. How will they survive when the law that sometimes suspends its power to apprehend now enacts its full force to legitimize itself? They are the living dead in this set up that denies them the right to live.
Breaking the Circle
Jaime Oscar M. Salazar
Situated in the sprawling slums of the Bataan Shipping and Engineering Company (Baseco) Compound in Tondo, Manila, Paul Sta. Ana’s Oros configures a cinematic realm that is populated by those so desperate that they must depend upon the dead for their survival and sustenance: even though gambling is, as a general rule, illegal, the practice is tolerated at wakes, especially when the authorities are persuaded, by way of grease money, to look the other way, and it is within this context that Makoy (Kristoffer King), and his younger brother Abet (Kristoffer Martin), are able to eke out their living, as the two periodically procure unclaimed cadavers from funeral parlors—no great difficulty, apparently, in an area notorious for violent crime—and help their clients stage spurious vigils at which they then function as operators of sakla, a card game that is supposed to date back to the Spanish period, in order to generate sufficient revenue for division among all involved in the ruse.
The money is easy enough to make, but the expenses entailed by the saklaan, which include bribes for officials, regular shots of formalin to keep the corpse looking fresh, and the costs of eventual burial, coupled with the desire for just a little more income, are what drive Linda (Tanya Gomez), to push her luck, asking the siblings to assist her in extending to three weeks the wake of a man for whom she has had to concoct the rudiments of a relationship to make the ritual believable, and their efforts to fulfill this request are what set the events of the story into motion. Such motion is, over time, shown to describe a tantalizing circle of exploitation that may be fateful but is not inevitable—one that Makoy is challenged to break and alchemize anew.
Oros gives the impression of being backed by a certain amount of ethnographic research, and its attempts to avoid creating spectacles out of scenes of poverty by way of a matter-of-fact treatment are laudable; some of the pains that it takes, however, to evoke the textured materiality of its locale, as when cockroaches suddenly appear on a kitchen table to the startled cries of a homeowner; when a character inadvertently steps on a pile of feces and has to scrape it off his foot; or when it becomes obvious that the complexions of King and Martin have been darkened, come across as contrived and fail to convince—a significant limitation for a work that, in many respects, does not so much break new ground as tread territory already covered in compelling ways by other films. Its uneven tone and pacing, as well as the tendency of the narrative to telegraph key points well in advance of their actual revelation, compound the weakness.
What nevertheless makes Oros a gripping drama is King, whose performance, much praised by many quarters, is a revelation indeed. At once a hard-nosed entrepreneur and a compassionate brother to the often intractable Abet, who is a reluctant participant in the business and would rather occupy himself with other pursuits, Makoy is wonderfully complex and contradictory, and it is testament to King’s skill that it is in the countenance of his character that the hope for transformation, for a world moved by agency rather than by chance, longed for all throughout a film that is saturated with misery, is finally registered and proffered.
Tessa Maria Guazon
Numerous questions were thrown our way this year. Those worth answering included queries on the relevance of awards, on why we persist on awarding films viewed presumably only by us, and why we appear to lag in the writing of film reviews. All these questions (some phrased with refinement than others) lead us to the uses and place of criticism within the exuberant sphere that Philippine cinema has become in recent years. The Young Critics Circle Film Desk has been consistent in regarding film as telling measure of the overarching conditions wherein it is crafted and circulated. These include the immediate context of Philippine society and the equally proximate realm conveniently labelled global.
The first citations for film was organized by the Young Critics Cirle in 1991, the periodic conclusion to a sustained dialogue among its members. I say with pride that such conversations traverse around and intervene in our lives, blossoming in carefully calibrated degrees as we by turns view, discuss, debate, and decide on the films to which awards will be conferred. The object of such a long process, which at times can be adequately described as tense, is what the YCC’s founding members had described as “dynamic discourse” wherein the most “provocative,” indeed the sharpest, incisive texts that engage and invigorate the imagination are identified. This vetting process amongst colleagues ensures that our reviews are thoughtful reflections on films and the attendant issues they raise. I again note with pride they are exercises in thought, reflection and engagement as we are not after website hits or equally fleeting, even trivial measures.
Discourse can only be sustained through difference and conflict. The yearly citations aim for films often circulated beyond the orbit of the centre (may include mainstream, big budget production,spectacular awards circuit, are among its many inflections) be recognized by a wide array of audiences. Our reflections on film of course are accompanied by a fervent wish that more audiences can view them, in venues that may not necessarily be deemed mainstream. It is fitting to note that festivals answer this need, especially those organized in the regions. Hence, recognition and platforms for wider circulation in most contexts can be said to necessarily inform each other. The YCC Film Desk sustains several platforms: our website for writings, the yearly citations, our periodic film screenings, and most important the forums where ideas are discussed and positions on crucial issues are courageously made. Our unflinching position on the disqualification of MNL143 is recent illustration.
2012 had innumerable film screenings: 51 films variously produced by Star Cinema, ABS-CBN Films, GMA Films, or Regal in partnership with comparably smaller production outfits, 72 full run digital films coupled with 63 other releases, and close to a hundred screened for the film festivals Cinema Rehiyon, First Big Shot, the FDCP Sineng Pambansa, Cinemalaya, Cinema One, Cinemanila, and MMFF New Wave. These figures may appear daunting to the avid follower of Philippine cinema and indeed, makes apparent to film critics the need to be ever more judicious in choosing the best among the lot.
The YCC after arduous turns in viewing all films publicly screened in 2012 narrowed these numbers to about thirty-two for its initial roster. We finally came to the nine best works for our short-list. Interestingly, those nominated for best film (Qiyamah, Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim, and Kalayaan) all focus on Mindanao, if not southern Philippines, as locus for their narratives. Impeccably depicted by way of visual and narrative devices, we chose Qiyamah as best work among the three nominees. We also recognize the contributions of film stalwart Nora Aunor through the citation of her performance in Thy Womb.
As we enter preparations for another round of viewing and criticism, we look with gratitude to the pioneers of film and theatre who passed on this year. I extend the cliché of “passing the torch” to include that the new generation of film makers, directors and actors in Philippine cinema rise to the challenge of devising new modes of film crafting, new ways of seeing and thinking. A fitting response from film critics is deeper engagement, a more encompassing and incisive discernment of the role of cinema in our times, an equally creative and keener survey of the sphere of imagination, and its most optimal mobilization, to adequately respond to issues that demand introspection and action.
This year, we introduce a new trophy for our awardees. Designed and crafted by artist Manolo Sicat, the trophy’s sleek silhouette emphasizes the ties between cinema and society. The undulating form on top of the base symbolizes fast-changing film formats and technology. And yet such flight that marks the deepest fathoms of the imagination are solidly anchored to reality, of which cinema is one of the more powerful prisms.
The design echoes the title of this report: a persistent desire to soar but deeply rooted to earth and the circumstances that make us.
Brilliante Mendoza’s competing entry to the 69th Venice International Film Festival and official entry to the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival, Thy Womb, has been received in diverse ways since its first screening, ranging from institutional and critical acclaim to popular indifference to contentious critique.
Set in the island province of Tawi-Tawi, the landscape of Thy Womb slowly unravels through the aural: the sound of waves as a baby is birthed into the world, the whirr of a motorized banca cutting through the tide, the spatter of rain breaking the stillness beyond.
These waters of life are the very habitat and home of Badjao couple Shaleha (Nora Aunor) and Bangas-an (Bembol Roco). This floating world between sky and sea envelops the ironic barrenness of Shaleha, a respected midwife in their humble village. The opening scene ends with Shaleha carefully putting aside the child’s discarded umbilical cord as a keepsake: a reminder of her own simultaneous power and failure to bring forth life.
Shaleha’s literal and figurative departures from the daily rhythm of living revolve around this perceived fall from grace: venturing to other shores with Bangas-an in search of a fecund second wife. This is a journey more transactional than personal, capped by the marriage to Mersila (Lovi Poe) and a substantial dowry that will sap not only their meager resources, but sever their remaining ties as well.
This whole conjugal narrative unfolds at a meandering pace, underscoring the tedium of waiting. The film intersperses its climactic points with cinematography representing the ecological and the social: panoramas and underwater shots abound with ethnographic portrayals of both social ritual and community life. It juxtaposes footage of wildlife, scenes and objects that are not only documentary but symbolic in function: pawikan eggs and rainbows, a desolate chapel and a busy mosque, the weaving of mats which subsistence fisherfolk turn to in the lean months.
At best, these scenes complement the symbolic silence that permeates throughout the film. There are no histrionics and thespian dialogues for most of the time. Much of the interrogations within the narrative remain unsaid and alluded to, like the currents of Thy Womb’s tranquil seas. The pristine underwater shots merely hint at the ruptures brewing beneath: a massive butanding hovering beneath the couple’s humble boat, the spurt of blood from a pirate’s gunshot wound dissolving into patterns in the water, a frantic carabao on the verge of drowning. What are made visible are merely ripples on the surface; sporadic interruptions—gunfire disrupting the pangalay dance at a marriage, a squad of soldiers passing by—merely hint at the real dissonance and turmoil unfolding beyond in this part of the archipelago.
The film presents undoubtedly poignant performances by Aunor and Roco, which have won for the former two other film citations for 2012. Their exchanges of words as husband and wife are sparse, whittled down all throughout the narrative by the screenplay (Henry Burgos); the real tragedies, jousts and departures are best left unspoken and seen. Roco’s stoic weariness betrays both a quiet desperation at the absence of progeny and sense of impending loss, suddenly sealed by Poe’s brief but pivotal presence in the end.
Much of the film’s power, however, is drawn from Aunor’s mastery of countenance and gesture: how her character becomes a disturbingly gendered embodiment of the maternal and the sacrificial. This is mirrored in the marriage ceremony she attends as a guest, where woman is transformed into bride. For my husband’s happiness, I’d do anything, Shaleha announces later, proclaiming an appalling selflessness in the face of her transactional and personal dealings. In the end, there are no words for anticipation, acceptance, and the finality of departure; indeed, Shaleha is painful to watch in her silence.
Yet it is also precisely in its very conception of silence that Thy Womb waxes problematic, if not potentially controversial, as a form of critique. For the semiotics of its breathtaking scenery, biodiversity and ethnographic documentation still point to the implied conception of Shaleha’s world as the Other: geographically and conceptually removed from urbanity, contemporaneity, and familiarity.
While the film consciously veers away from representing overtly and unabashedly exotic spectacles reminiscent of the early 20th century colonial gaze, its representation of personal loss and pain as a largely aesthetic encounter transforms Shaleha’s story (and the geopolitical implications behind it) into an exquisite vista that one does not interrogate, but merely beholds. It is only in problematizing such silence that one can come to closer terms with Bangas-an’s real loss: there is no redemption, only rupture, in this final birth.