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Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Orchid, the Vase, the Engine

J. Pilapil Jacobo

If the digital age has witnessed a surfeit of contentious categories across erotic relations, as far as certain applications complementing android technology have come to intimate to its users procedures which may alter desire and how its humanoid extensities can be facilitated, then Ikaw Ay Akin should be seen, or at the least, argued to have anticipated Filipino notions of the “polyamorous” and the post-modernity of its rupture even within heterosexual machinations. I have seen the film several times on television and video, but its recent digital remastery has allowed me to reflect on how films “of relative domesticity,” a description felicitously phrased by my colleague Nonoy Lauzon in his own critique of the film, can still outshine the sleekness of contemporary romance peddled by some of our millennial filmmakers, affirming a suspicion that technological independence has prevented the cinematic intellection of social predicament, such as sexual politics.

Written by Jose Carreon and directed by National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal, Ikaw Ay Akin’s preoccupation is Rex (Christopher de Leon), an orphan who has inherited a jeepney talyer. When he isn’t managing the affairs of his workshop, he finds intense gratification in skydiving. These instances of labor and leisure situate Rex within a premise of objects as determinations of character. Engines moving around on land and in the sky define the young man of dynamic ambition. And yet, the film does not only regard things as correlative aspects of person; they are also configurations of how people are led to behave in a certain way within a social arrangement. Persons are drawn to certain objects, and become custodians of a particular set of machines, because it is through this array of properties that the social can emerge.

When I say “social,” I am not flattening the discourse to the question of class. What is achieved by reducing Rex and his appurtenances to bourgeois typicality? Although it is possible that this insight could be the crux in another critic’s account of the movie. Whether the dissemination of the social is through commerce, which is replete with macroeconomic assignations of polity, or through a form of consumption when the economy turns into the privations of domestic habit, an understanding of fetish can only be in order, and later, at stake. Reification, when persons are altered into things, is the core argument of the theory of fetish, and the screenplay explores with pointillist fastidiousness the strategies of alienation overdetermining the terms of commodification, particularly when Rex enters the conundrum of erotic relation as a polyamorous subject.

Rex’s confusion between two women of distinction is a symptom of the fragmentation that he cannot quite resolve even when confronted with the clarity of ethical choice. Should he remain with Teresita (Nora Aunor), the horticulturist, or could he also experiment with Sandra (Vilma Santos), the ceramic designer? The former is patient, the composure of her conviction to love is as sure as the inflorescence of her orchids, while the latter is intemperant, with a susceptibility as fragile as the make of her singularly hand-painted vases. Rex confounds the métier of each woman, subjects them to comparison, and minimizes the demarcations between Teresita’s science and Sandra’s art, to stage a proprietary competition whose rules of play are orchestrated along complex binarisms, such as the intervals which distinguish baroque music from jazz (Teresita’s rhythm as kindred to Antonio Vivaldi, and Sandra’s tempo as intimate with Cole Porter), and the syncopations which can be employed so that natural predilection (Teresita) or nurturing ambivalence (Sandra) can be referred to through the contrapuntality. In this tense pageant of which act of loving can persuade the polyamorous to decide on his erotic fate, Vilma Santos must enunciate confident speech and Nora Aunor should articulate buoyant silence. It’s only matter of time, the film intimates, before whatever remains as solid in the fragment melts into air, just like a foil character who spends his days repairing clocks, and wasting away for a love that can no longer fulfill a promise. Santos is given all the clever lines, and plentiful are her instances of frenetic acting; but with that finale screening all manner of logorrheal excess, including the man who claims he has made up his mind, Santos’s appeal to disagree with romance comes rather too late. When that happens, Christopher de Leon has already engineered a range of sentiments to implode from within a dramatic apparatus wholly his own that he earns to right to disappear from the scene of contest. With this engine gone, the orchid takes over the vase, and breaks it, my poet-friend K. S. Cordero interjects. And yet: to what end is the flowering and the shattering?

After 37 years, Ikaw Ay Akin becomes a materialist indictment of the patriarchal deceit cisgender passion must contend with, opening up the queerness that emerges from feminine confidence as zone of alternative feelings. And, of course, Nora still punctures the assault with an imperturbable will to punctuate the sentence, despite the adages of her time failing to utter competitive affection, convincing Vilma that the encounter isn’t just about female rivalry, but also masculine decadence.

Ikaw Ay Akin

Santos, de Leon, and Aunor as desire love-triangle (source: http://www.ebay.com).

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Posted by on 21/11/2015 in Film Review, Philippine Film

 

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Defections from Difference: Critique of Cinema One Originals 2015

J. Pilapil Jacobo

The claim to Cinema One’s propagation of originality in this year’s film festival has taken a decisive turn in adopting the question of difference as principle of selectivity and rubric of discrimination. With the copy “Kakaiba Ka Ba?” brandished at every press opportunity, one is persuaded to believe that the system disbursing the film grants has evolved with a comprehension of the dialectic between notions of origin and the standards of exception the original must protect, in order to justify its paranoid attitude toward the possibility of becoming commonplace. The performative instigation of such a rhetorical statement is semaphorically indicated by two hands forming into the alphabetical-numerical combination that announces the cable television channel in abbreviated form, with the background aflash with lightning whose focal point between the two semaphores refracts into an incident of illumination, perhaps pointing to a moment of differential origin? Could that wave particle event be the cinematic text produced within the fold of televisual convention and all too familiar media? How long can distinction, if ever it even overcomes cooptative tactic, “distinguish” itself when the spoils of institutional arbitration have been uncovered by forms of critique adverse to the facilities of appeasement, and what follows as adherence, particularly when propaganda taunts them to be hailed as “distinguished” in recognizing that there indeed, in this cinema of putative origination, is difference?

Manang Biring‘s primary achievement is its defamiliarization of the traumaturgy inherent in tropologies of illness, through its rotoscopic animation of the will to survivance. However, an exoticism of the subject of suffering is inevitably committed when the traumaturg is made to act against death through the rehearsal of lumpen methodology already entrenched in practices of poverty pornography, ultimately essaying a kind of bad faith that limns the terms of decadence. In the end, the god-in-the-machine emerges as a zany doppelgänger misrecognized as one presence that can substitute the defiles of ailment with a holograph of well-being by the traumaturg herself, a horrific fulfillment of the trace that is purportedly desired to recede whenever cinema in these parts decides to animate vertiginous life, or at least aspects of its vanishing. This failure of cinematic technology to conceptualize form as critique of the real only affirms the sinister triumph of excess capital from the current televisual establishment supporting this film carnival in our forlorn metropolis.

There isn’t much to be said about The Comeback, except that it distends an already bloated filmography that demeans the affective life of the mind by valorizing the world of entertainment purveyed by televisual duress as possibly a source of some redemptive moment when all the dignity lost to women after all manner of penile envy can be resuscitated through the obliteration of compassionate femininity and the performance of such vacuousness.

Dahling Nick squanders the cinematic possibilities of the literature that is signified by the author function of Nick Joaquin by literalizing the historical script ciphered through the highly idiolectal Anglophony within Joaquin’s Hispanophilia. Intensely misunderstood is the paradoxical status of language across a body of work that only seeks to mediate autochthonous experience, or what remains of it, in spite of the opacity that renders multiple imperialisms only recognizable (and inherently, again, misrecognized) as palimpsestic. In particular, what is audible as troubled translation in a work of fiction under the sign of a tropical gothic is grossly obliterated in the screenplay that wallows in narcissism after inundating its monologues with various pitches of affectation. When literature is inverted to its absolute failure, as literality, just so cinema in these parts can project itself as exercising its sentimental education, as literate, that is where our audience (in this instance, one that willfully submits itself to this act of hailing) must arrest the allure of surface most rampant in contemporary cinema and call it out for what it really is: ideologic. As well, there is sheer distrust in the species of “veracity” (or the modes of “verification,” at the very least) cinematic representation can offer, for the filmic rendition of Joaquin’s short fiction is rendered extenuate in various interpolations of purported intimates of the author in question and the literary tradition to which they must cathect. One is led to ask what is achieved in the concealment of indigenous accents whenever the prosaics of our culture is articulated. Perhaps, the failure of post-colonial phonetics? Surely, no iota of expertise (or, heaven forbid, scholarship) is accorded to these figures of anecdotal authority when the hagiography is nothing but repetitive, pretending as if Epifanio San Juan Jr.’s critique (and Alice Guillermo’s metacommentary of the latter’s “prologomena”) from decades ago had never been written. The Catholic tenor that controls the monological tone of the docu-drama essentially unmasks the tribute, as homophobic (save for that scene where Maria Isabel Lopez sets a queer pitch against the romance of the mirror that is the source of conceit in “May Day Eve”), and, as an esteemed colleague has quipped: “in protracting to reduce the radical content of elegiac form in Joaquin, ultimately effete.” Thus, the term of endearment that lays claim to the ekphrasis can only be suspect, usurping the vision of a terminus, or a sense of limit—core arguments which set Joaquinesque historicizing to dwell in the most insecure cusps of Philippine time and place.

The uncertainty that is posited in Baka Siguro Yata is the indeterminate status of heteronormative family romance, and the forms of kinship such an arrangement can evince, after the primal scene of homosexual panic is staged. With this homophobic premise in place, the narrative despairs to recuperate the terms of intimacy most significant in the preservation of straight couplings, particularly as codified within reproductive discourses across three generations of unapologetically cisgender mindsets. While erectile dysfunction, out of wedlock pregnancy, and sexual abstinence are discussed along motifs of medical expiration and food spoilage, still, the humanization of heterosexist dominance resorts to a reconstitution of the hysterical male as patriarchal candidate, by way of situations which only seem to attenuate the possession of female virginity, the capitulation to the matrimonial imperative, and the institution of erotic proclivity as amorous fundament, all of which affirming the assignation of economic provision onto a male subject that can only assume full and unabashed responsibility for the assumption of a romantic emplotment most appropriate to the habitude of his endearments.

Set in the province of Biliran, Miss Bulalacao is a Visayan vignette speculating on the transgender sublation of the biopolitical limit that is the impossibility of childbirth, a “point de capiton” rationalizing homophobic suspicion about queer matrices which can finally disengage vestiges of the heteronormative family romance with kinship. That such a proposition is projected by the same vernacular cinema that has produced texts like Iskalawags (2013) and Soap Opera (2014) argues a self-reflexive filmic consciousness that can transform what is merely novel into what can stand on its own as alternative. Vernacularity articulates its argument as formal in the manner of pace, a dialectical relation with the time of the tropics in its nesological sense, that is, the island as possibly the site of an isolated event whose esoteric implementation can conceptualize the strategic possibilization of an altered state, which, in this case, is of course, gender whose performative iterations have turned on itself, as constative in its surrealist fulfilment. If the transgender body has been diagnosed as containing fetal life, then essential womanhood can then be claimed. The temporality of such an argument is arrayed to us in the manner of classical extrapolations of the torrid zone as “tristes tropiques,” implying a sense of retardation, of course, in contradistinction to the onrush of a metropolitan modernity that is always on the verge of committing itself to violence. And yet unlike stereotypically exoticist accounts of this sadness which are hinged upon primitivist and archaic origins, the screenplay stretches its extrapolative ambit toward the futurism of the patrilineage; the impregnation is meteoric in the sense that the germ of alterity originates from alien spermatozoon and that the uterine passageways which receive such an entrant are constructed from interstellar conduits. If one is wont to talk about the paradoxical extremities of romantic entanglement that can preserve the homonormative premise within queer desire, this set up is the perfect scenography where the antipodal relationality can be staged. As soon as the film establishes this intercourse, the alternation of consciousness falls prey to a Catholic disavowal of the discursive inveiglement of sexuality and its investments. There is nothing preternatural about the slowness. It is here where the syncopated rhythm of islandic discourse reveals itself as hopelessly controlled by a colonial mindset whose barroquism confounds the separation of the sexes and vanquishes the chiasmus of gender difference. Hence, the rehearsal of miracular mythology is no longer surprising; and a narrative that terminates with the sacerdote revelling in his role as abortionist only affirms the turning of the daring into timorous dereliction, the abandonment of a cinematic imagination that had become so wretched, its apparition was taken to be so terrifying.

What sets Sheron Dayoc’s Bukod Kang Pinagpala apart is its tenebrous appeal that grows intense between a crazed extrapolation of the thaumatologic and a romantic appraisal of the demonic, so that a sinister eroticism lurks at every possible opportunity. By turns gothic and goofy (Max Eigenmann’s “Mama, nakakatakot ka na!” is precious in this case), the aurality (mostly pitched from pianistic discordance) that emerges from this maniacal encounter can only be matched by a visual design whose iconography is painstakingly well-placed between sanctimonious ivory and libidinal blue. The tension is mediated by a fanatic whose access to the miracular is also argued as conflating the hysteric episteme that the feudal order imposes on female consciousness with the rigors of a demonic possession that delivers its intrusion as theophanic. Where the narrative refuses to engage the rationality behind why madness must coincide with such diabolical dramaturgy, that is the locus where the film taps the recesses of conventional fear, reverting to the horror of the monstrous feminine as a madwoman in the attic. It is also at this point that Paolo Paraiso’s eroticization of the false Messiah stops pretending that the regard it deserves is not scopophilic. That the film ultimately looks at syncretic faith as source of this contagion is uncalled for, if only because the antichristology is for the most part solipsistically domestic. Bing Pimentel is decisively shrill, but her augmented tone defers whatever discomfiture one can derive from an insufferable third act. Her mariological pretense is an absolute stunner, one of contemporary cinema’s most confessional performances; Max Eigenmann and Lou Veloso must also be cited, the former, for her armoreal embodiment of suspicion when the kinship with a blaspheme has become incipient, and the latter, for the sheer delight of listening to his queer irreverence.

The anatomy of corruption that is exposed in Bor Ocampo’s Dayang Asu is nothing new, but it does sound novel enough, as Kapampangan argument. The trope of a dogged life in post-catastrophic Bacolor is also forced, although the scenes of its purveyance throughout the locale are immediate and at times arresting. Hence, it is not so much how the doggedness becomes a matter of state, or how plunderbund practices dissolve into the everyday, that is made prominent in the film, but the vernacularity of the vileness, including the rural rigmarole that is passed on, from vengeance to vengeance. When animality finally settles in as analytic of the discourse on political economy and the social subjects it interpellates, the character that the writing argues as potentially ethical nonetheless descends into an act of violence, affirming lumpen tactic as the only viable option when the humanist premise falters, and every fragment of Pampango idealism is shattered.

Ralston Jover persists to explore further analytical grit within the social realist paradigm through Hamog, a diptych of narratives on street urchins living under Guadalupe Bridge in Makati. While the first arc pursues a line of storytelling similar to the director’s Bakal Boys (2009), particularly as regards the rites of bereavement deserved by young life taken away too early by random acts of recklessness in the metropolis, Zaijian Jaranilla’s essaying of a Muslim boy’s conviction to redeem himself from a culture of contempt rings with the keenest sense of empathy. Jover’s characters are written with the most confounding senses of the human, so that ethical destitution is no longer an intellectual habit even when the economic seems to totalize the experience of constraint. The second arc centered on Therese Malvar does not possess the cohesiveness that allows Jaranilla to commandeer the resolution of violence toward a dissolution of impunity, but the situational tragedy that presents itself to the young actress persuades her to choreograph the concealment of poison as gift of the servile to the ones who have seemingly gained mastery over her free spirit. While Jaranilla’s delineations are almost neoclassical in certainty, Malvar approximates the gestalt of primitivist impulses, complete with the dread that one must contain in finally hearing the acoustics of her own erotic fantasies, and all the more dreadful because fulfilled vicariously. While watching the film, I couldn’t help but remember Orlando Nadres and Leroy Salvador’s Mga Batang Yagit, (1984) a climacteric text for my generation, as it plotted out the horrors of familial abandonment and metropolitan thrownness, as well as the strange delight in the prospects of independence, in the twilight of a dictatorship. Jover does cite that emplotment, in order to revise the social script written over its deep structures, to show us that children of our contemporary streets are struggling against domestic arrangements which are no longer hospitable spaces for their brand of worldliness, and social welfare services which anticipate the adult penitentiary and therefore must be avoided by those accustomed to strategic hooliganism, because of a right to subsist against an economy that can no longer support their purity. The breakdown of such institutions rationalize the variegatory kinships children themselves set up to protect those who have always already been orphaned by the democratic state. The verses framing Jaranilla’s and Malvar’s episodes written by actor Rener R. Concepcion are highly evocative stanzas which recall the conceptual concreteness of Rolando Tinio and the abstractive objectivity of Lamberto Antonio. The metaphor of the haze correlates most efficaciously the amorphous passage of innocence in a city whose long day’s journey into night almost no longer matters, with dark intent lurking at every turn even when noon is most torrid.

Finally, Mga Rebeldeng May Kaso is Raymond Red’s lovesong to that bygone era when independent cinema in the country could only be uncompromising in the pursuit of a movement apart from the mainstream, and the label “experimental” did indicate the subjection of film form to the intensest conundrum, and not just an apposition that camouflages the will to pretense. The milieu that rises from this romantic premise is imbued further with the patina of radicality, as the Raymond Red figure played by Felix Roco is set to premiere a film in a festival of vanguard motion picture during the early days of the revolutionary government installed after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. Instructive in the depiction of a young indie film director as he protracts the editing of his closing piece is the genealogy of cinematic technology that runs its course between serialities and discontinuities along the residual, the dominant, and the emergent—rubrics delineated by the Marxist critic Raymond Williams in his cultural materialist theory on the superstructure and its material base. When the cinematographic contraptions appear as objects of its day, far from looking as artifacts of technical memory from our presentist perspective, they are employed by the filmmaker in such a way that their utilization can distinguish the particularities of his intervention as a master machinist. In the end, the chronicle that is foretold for our contemporary gaze can only be the death of such indefatigability, with almost all of Red’s vanguardism lost to the opportunistic ethos of most of his heirs today, ingratiating the demands of a mainstream that only has so much surplus capital to suppress what is sustained by efforts to remain independent. Needless to say, even Red had to capitulate to this establishment, but only perhaps momentarily, to explore notions of being on the verge of the modern, always already aware of what becomes of the ideal, when “betrayed.” While the premiere is botched in the end by punk riot (an allegory of the obligatory failure of the avant-garde), Raymond Red provides us with a glimpse of the gender of that independence, when the prince of the homosocial affair finally pays tribute to the Nick Deocampo avatar played by Epy Quizon, acknowledging him as diva of the movement, whose queer matriarchy was part-nurturance, part-ruthlessness. How can independent cinema in this late moment ever purport itself to be teeming with sui generis difference with this confession on the intimacy of alternative origins?

Rebelde 2

Epy Quizon as Deo (source: facebook.com).

 
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Posted by on 19/11/2015 in Film Review, Philippine Film

 

Ikaw ay Akin, The Digitally Restored, and Re-mastered

Nonoy L. Lauzon

[previously published in glitter.ph. view original here.]

It is rare for a Filipino film of relative domesticity to be imbued with grandeur. But here, attuned to Bernal’s directorial vision, grandeur overflows from the witty repartee to the characters’ introspection, and individual quiet moments to the scenes of partying and making love.

Classics of Philippine cinema may just outshine the year’s crop of outstanding current features in the country. With the restoration efforts in full gear for certain films of yesteryears, movie-going audiences now enjoy more than ever easy access to great homegrown cinema.

Lino Brocka’s Insiang that made it to the official selection of Cannes last May upon its restoration that had been carried out in world-class laboratories of Bologna, Italy, has readily upstaged any other Philippine title as the most sought-after selection for prestigious film festivals overseas.

Olivia Lamasan’s Sana Maulit Muli, with international star Lea Salonga teaming up with Aga Muhlach has proven itself to be as much a box-office sensation as when it was first released twenty years ago during the premiere for its restored version at the University of the Philippines in Diliman last July.

Cinemalaya, more than made up for the absence of a main competition for full-length features this year, with a showcase of Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Karnal in its full restored glory.

As the year marks the birth centennial for two of the country’s National Artists for Film, namely Lamberto Avellana and Manuel Conde, classic features under their respective directions are very much in the limelight: A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (Avellana) and Genghis Khan (Conde).

The restoration for Avellana’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino has multifarious significance considering that 2015 is also the birth centenary for its producer, Manuel de Leon of LVN fame, and the film that has turned gold with its 50th year of creation is the screen adaptation of the celebrated stage play by National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin.  Another National Artist involved in the film is lead actress Daisy Avellana, wife of Lamberto and theater icon.

Conde’s Genghis Khan was restored in 2012. Three years thereafter, it remains in the news as it graces this year’s Venice Art Biennale, where the Philippines made a comeback some five decades after its last official national participation.

Joining this illustrious league of immortalized big-screen classics for the year is Ishmael Bernal’s Ikaw Ay Akin, from ABS-CBN Film Restoration. Premiering this Saturday, November 14, for this year’s Cinema One Originals Festival, the 1978 feature that paired movie queens Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor, must be truly hailed as the piece de resistance of the current screening season. From any which angle one may look at the film, it is every inch remarkable.

Its production must be considered not only a milestone in Philippine cinema history, but also a monumental celebration. Since it was screened to theaters across the country close to 40 years ago, it managed to have withstood the ravages of time to  be rightfully declared a national treasure.

Ikaw Ay Akin shows rivals Vilma and Nora in their thespic best, along with leading man Christopher de Leon, in a performance of a lifetime that put to shame all others in his entire career.

To appreciate Ikaw Ay Akin is to dwell an entire bright era in national cinema. Made at a time of artistic heights for the local film industry, it demonstrates that romance as a screen genre, need not be hollow, shallow and inconsequential.

The film has single-handedly radicalized the discourse on the human need for intimacy to arrive at a higher level of cinema dwelling on affairs of the heart. Along the way, it makes a statement on the feminist movement, machismo or male chauvinism, hypocrisy in society and the contending forces of trust and betrayal that seem to govern every single circumstance by which humans deal with each other.

So much wisdom oozes from the film rendering it as the realization of a thinking viewer’s idea of a romance movie, that doubles as a lesson in philosophy. Textured performances even from the bit players complement an astute play of production elements to comprise a totality of a film very much adept in nuance and meaning.

Most appropriately, the film ends with the moment of greatest grandeur of all: the exchange of glances and suspended conversation between the film’s two female leads in a duel and a duet of spectacular screen acting!