By Nonoy L. Lauzon
Elections in the Philippines as depicted in the movies are a grand affair. Big crowd scenes of miting de avance are regulatory. Parades, marches and sequences of candidates for elective office on the campaign trail are perfunctory. The plot may center on an assassination or even a massacre – the better to allow for a smorgasbord of cinematic genres enough to arouse audience interest and thereby drive the film to make a killing at the box office.
While Chito Roño’s Badil is a motion picture about Philippine elections, it does away in so many ways with the stereotypes of such a movie. Here the main character is not the politico running for a public post. The audience encounters him only with his face on mounted posters and similar campaign paraphernalia. Instead of the politico, the film foregrounds a protagonist principally tasked to ensure votes for his candidate in methods and mechanism unique to the country.
That there has to be such a person speaks volumes about Philippine electoral politics. Roño with his extensive filmography of slick and high-concept melodramas and big-budget adventure flicks has tackled the bizarre, the absurd and the surreal. It is no different in Badil as the director compels viewers to look at one country’s political system as the ultimate grotesquerie.
The rambunctious democracy that is often attributed to the Philippines assumes in the film a level of gritty manifestation. On this account, the film becomes Roño’s boldest, most vocal and most critical of the established socio-political order in the land of his birth. Yet it is not wanting in prescriptive program of action and platform for radical change. The film gets to tread on philosophical-thought territory finding an apt metaphor for proper conduct of revolutions akin to the concoction of a cup of cappuccino.
With the crucial run-up to national elections in a municipality that serves as microcosm for the entire archipelago as the locus of its narrative, the film consists of all-too banal and familiar scenes of people and situations that at the same time spell the very horrors the country’s populace contend with as they partake of the political exercise said to be among the greatest national passions of the Filipinos.
Precisely because the film elicits a powerful and profound message at its core, production values while toned down render the film forceful and effective. Cinematic elements in the film are orchestrated in such a manner that the attention or focus of viewers is directed at the development of the plot and the plight of the characters. This is unadulterated cinema – without empty fanfare, bereft of the trappings of cheap thrills, devoid of gimmickry.
Nonoy L. Lauzon is the cinema programmer of the UP Film Institute. He holds double degrees in Philosophy and Humanities from University of the Philippines Diliman. He had worked for national newspapers such as the Philippine Journal and Manila Times and previously written reviews and commentary through the years for a number of publications including Mirror Weekly, People’s Journal, Evening Paper, Real Pinoy, Saksi Ngayon.