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?