A review of YCC’s Best First Features of 2013
J. Pilapil Jacobo
The preponderance of film aspiration entitles most of the present commentariat to cast a hallow aura around almost every labor on that elusive form of the contemporary, cinema. The sheer thought of a motion picture debut is enough for the automatic pundit to disseminate the jouissance up to that point of customary virulence in the social media. And because this quasi-tantric brand of expertise is composed by a species of intelligence prone to film critical apperception, the purported rapture in the writing can only be bereft of the sufferance that recognizes asymmetries between the dissemination of cinematic text and the articulacy of film reception. One can think of this sufferance as that hospitality toward the negative—the ecliptic that allows spectatorial analysis to accede to an umbral shade widening its charge upon the light of cinephiliac day.
For a maenad of a respondent, the crepuscule is merely a calendrical moment, a period anticipated by temperate habit. And yet, that reviewer will aspire to inhibit crepuscular schedule, its possibility of disrupting in advance the glare of the solar hours his counter-insurgent prose must prevent—as if an optic agitated before the blaze can foresee the symptoms of blindness, an argument that must remain confident alongside the sufferant gaze. Without this darkly pursuit, the writing is ever the debut, too, when it assumes an aspect of the aspiration to become, film. This description of the pundit’s fetish on presence should explain why such a commentator had always been impatient with the dialectic the image enables its beholder to apprehend. Such excitement can only be contemporaneous with the spectacle of a time inimical to alterity while enamored with its own entitlements. Film critical apperception is found out within the apathies of film historical oblivion. One never exempts oneself from ideology in assuming the role of an advocate.
These film debuts did not survive the duress of the style of critique performed in the Young Critics Circle Film Desk. And yet, we cite them alongside the most singular accomplishments of Philippine cinema for film year 2013, as a signifier of a calibration of this period in the contemporary as far as our film historicizing is concerned. These three films are symptomatic of the current political economy of independent cinema in the country. They were all produced within film festivals sponsored by media networks whose primary means of accruing profit is through its telenovelistic machinery. The capital that funded these film debuts is derived from a surplus of the mass consumption of the brand of narrative seriality programmed to distract subjects across the archipelago and its trans-national communities from the material reality that can expose the precarious conditions of how people perceive their entertainment. Of course, the cinephile will celebrate the destiny of this surplus capital while ignoring the perilous traffic that plunders avant-garde independence from whatever work of cinema that submits itself to the low life of televisual intelligence. This is how one can confabulate the gold of a film age.
Aspiration intimates breath. As an instinct of the body as sufferant, there should be nothing wrong with it. When the mind overestimates the amount of atmosphere that can be allowed within one’s lungs, that is a moment of frail cast assuming perspicacious figure that might prove deleterious to dynamic sense. The aspirational is dangerous insofar as it refuses to deliver the reverie from the ideologic, where one never knows one’s oncoming death.
Our choices for the inaugural honor of Best First Features refer us to a method of air Jean-Luc Godard had imagined for his own debut. These calibrations of breath instruct us on the interval that must be apprehended by a vocalist if she aspires to shape-shift through that movement: trill. In the cinema of contemplation that has bedeviled thoughtful projections in these parts, the cusp is elided in terms of a mise-en-scène that is obsessed with itself, that it cannot move on to its alter-image. Montage is deferred, in the hope that an idea can rise from the cadaver of concept. These instances are still enamored with a lassitude that irremediably divorces intellection from imaginative engagement, yet we do acknowledge intentions of passage.
The catholic colony established in sixteenth century Philippines was an abode of the devil; such is the sorrowful mystery that astonishes Angustia and inspires Kristian Sendon Cordero’s bewilderment to dismantle the forlornness through an ethnographic surrealist account of the natural history of eroticism and death in the south Luzonian tropics. Notwithstanding this audacity, the enamoration with the ethnic and her dialect of recalcitrance is what prevents the text from superintending its visual idiom to a comprehension of formal efficacy. That said, the historiographic identification with the “wretched of the earth” refusing to fall down after diabolical rampage should be peerless.
The “techniques of observation” which enable art to be endangered in reproducibility on the one hand and preserved in singularity on the other preoccupy the forger of the work in Mike Alcazaren’s Puti. The resolution of that cusp is shortchanged, though, when the phantasmagoria that persuades the subject to capitulate to the museological panopticon is played out within the cognitive alibi that is comatose. Still, the aspiration toward a return to painting as idiom of the film image is an optimal proposition.
Randolph Longjas’s Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin is a delirious comedy of manners on Filipino-American romance. The narrative method is quite crude, dependent on episodes of the joke of a passional trans-nation, but there is delicacy in Tuesday Vargas’s circumvention of Anglophone pretense. And there is nothing quite like this film’s earnestness.
At the outset, aspiration is always already absolute. The procedure to fulfill however must consider calibration. Perhaps, art is possible in this calculus.
J. Pilapil Jacobo is Assistant Professor at the School of Humanities of the Ateneo de Manila University where he teaches Literature and Literary Criticism and Theory in the Departments of English and Filipino. He holds the Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the State University of New York. A specialist in tropology and tropicality, he is currently preparing an annotated edition of Fruto del Prado’s Bicolano translation (1867) of Modesto de Castro’s “Urbana at Feliza” (1864).
Editor’s Note: This review is part of a series of reviews of outstanding films of 2013 and 2014 that we will feature here in the run-up to the YCC Citations Ceremony on April 23rd. Earlier reviews have been featured for Badil (here and here), Porno (here and here), Pagpag, Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, Lauriana, Quick Change, Ang Kwento ni Mabuti, Debosyon, Babagwa, and Mga Anino ng Kahapon.