Monthly Archives: October 2016

Uterine Reverie: Critique of “Sayaw sa Butal”

J. Pilapil Jacobo

Bicolano poet and translator Victor Dennis Nierva’s first film is a short feature on the power of female fantasy and the violence of erotic imagination as transacted within capitalist patriarchy.

A middle-aged woman (Eilyn Nidea) earns a living by sitting all day outside the male urinals of the Naga City central terminal, making sure that the amenities of masculine comfort are maintained by fees of five or ten peso coins. Her hours are marked by the sound of metal clinking inside her plastic bowl. These men transiting in and out of the peninsular city do not interest her, until one humid morning, a young man (Floyd Tena) captures her fancy. She keeps his coins, keeps them inside a pouch, sleeps with her charmed money at night, touches herself in the morning with her coins, and takes them to a mountain shaman (Frank Peñones), who assures her “he will be yours, all of him will be yours.”

The shaman’s magic works. Woman leaves her post. She rides the bus that takes the man to wherever he is going. And before we know it, woman and man are engaged in a pas de deux. Then, we hear the strings of a Spanish guitar. The serenade: Nierva’s verses on arrivals and leave-takings.


Or: Is the woman losing her mind? Can the prospect of ravishment enable her to come to terms with indentured labor in the hands of capitalist patriarchy as her body recedes menopausally? Does the thought of sexual redemption drive women on the wane to madness? What gives, in the surrender of the truths of consciousness to the calculating body? Can the lyrical sustain the duress of such premise? What is achieved by this uterine reverie?

“Butal” refers to that aspect of the nexus of cash where a certain value of capital is deemed negligible at the same time that it is accorded a moment of commodity, where value is detachable from the modes of production. The fulfillment of the lack that is nonetheless devalued is almost too precious to the point of forcing subjects of economic exchange to accede to practices of mendicancy, especially when the master is dreamed to become one’s sex object. One begs for spare change in instances of penury; one begs for spare lust in a libidinal economy. In this delineation of the market, the coin is the metonym of the longing that expedites subaltern entrapment; its dissemination fixes a financial propensity with which the woman can never be intimately filiated. If she must accumulate the denomination to sustain her life within local modernity, but refuses to enter the rites of accumulation by charging the metal with an erotic wish, the desirous attachment is at once spellbound and disenchanting. Woman is lack herself. Can her pecuniary disinterest ever deny the fetish?

The desire is nothing but an illusion, and the womanhood that is aspired to be fulfilled through sympathetic magic is reduced to an oneiric impossibility. The reverie is vicious, particularly when the uterus is deemed as always imaginary. What remains significant is urinary relief.

What is Love? It is a purchase without payment. It is non-economic reciprocity. It is the gift without exchange.

As master of charms, Frank Peñones’s incantations are alluring.

Floyd Tena can only be prone to victimage. Finally, a lothario manipulated. Screams could not be muffled whenever his face filled the screen up with gorgeous sexuality.


Eilyn Nidea’s instincts of predation are never imprecise. Her virago’s movements are unpredictably delightful to watch. There is so much carnal knowledge inside that darkly soul that only Madame Nidea’s canvas of a face, ravaged by the years, can unleash. What an actress!

As a young interlocutor, Noella Buscaña sometimes steals the thunder from Nidea, and the latter allows the former’s voluptuous laughter to intensify her amorous lightning.

Ronald Rebutica’s cinematographic design is panoptic, although that intrusion is most felt in scenes utterly private.

Jenn Romano’s sense of visual arrangement can be thoughtful, through ironic detail.

Nierva has crafted a dangerous film. He seems to assure us: nothing can buy love, although a few of us may take some chances. Where it is risky, the handsome and the homely shall share the rapture. All is fair. All is unfair.

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Posted by on 29 October 2016 in Film Review, Philippine Film



In Hora Mortis Nostrae: Critique of “Hinulid”

J. Pilapil Jacobo

There is a scene in Kristian Sendon Cordero’s sophomore film “Hinulid” that manifests the predicament of mourning the narrative seeks to work through in its iterations of how forlorn the human can be when abandoned permanently through that event: death.

It is dusk in Iriga. Sita Dimaiwat (Nora Aunor) passes through the cemetery arch on which the Latin phrase “Via Omni Caris” is painted; the bodiless may not cross. Sepulchres are built not to hold the remains of the departed; the mausoleum is such a place, because we are all alone, we fear ourselves also fading. Do not leave just yet; here, a monument. Through a labyrinth of marmoreal tombs, Aunor blends in with the shades of a tropic crepuscule: ochre, as the evanescent sun; obsidian, like the night’s mantle. When she finds her son Lukas (Jesus Mendoza) weeping before the epitaph of his big winner, the priest Mamo (Raffi Banzuela), she enters a frame of grief: she sees the one she has yet to mourn for, mourning.

That the rhythms of sorrow commingle in this instance points to the opportunity where the film locates the time where one is entitled to grieve—memory, that interregnum in the mind where one labors too hard to come to terms with passage: what has gone is not only lost; it is foregone to be found as missing. Even when the injury is not total, the site of ruin tells us: here lies all the hurt, every inch speaks of an unendurable damage. One asks: Did it happen? Was he here? Were all of it true? The moment of provenance is only staged in the instance of yearning.

Cordero is most anxious to pursue this cusp of thought that he conjures the memorialization through a mode of retrieval that reduces intimations of previous horizons of expectations to a mere if not a modest proposal.

The mourning is grounded in a myth of how galactic light is split between maternal brilliance and cherubic luminosity and how the earth registers this scission upon a meteorite isle where fireflies surrender their final blaze. This cosmogonic parabasis internalized as local knowledge is inlaid with a colonial narrative of christological interment: the Messiah is dead, yes, but thrice, as a statuary of identical eburnean figures clothed in vermilion radiance and encased in cuboid glass. Such triplication is a mnemonic to refuse the telos of a sorrowful mystery, much like the melismatic ululations of the folk which decorate elegiac enjambments of the Pasyon quintilla and prevent the lyric from punctuating itself quite predictably, in prosopopeiac loneliness. It has to be said that while this aspect of colonial idiom is now read as a gesture of sufferance that choreographs revolutionary movements, what remains to be articulated is how dolorous maternity intervenes in activating intransigence. “Hinulid” could fulfill that feminine reading of the passion.

It is quite strange that while it is Sita who is portrayed as sorrowful, the dolefulness is not demonstrated according to her lamentational terms. Instead, the agony is projected upon her through this Christ thrice interred. This puts into question the memory that her consciousness is supposed to verify as the truth of her mourning. Sita needs to grieve a dead son thrice: the precocious sacristan, the awkward teen poet, the brooding student of law. What is amplified by this triplication? I’m trying to remember Nora’s face through the three hours of Cordero’s Bikol epic and for the first time, after all those years, Aunor registers vacancy. There is magnification, yes. Mourning becomes Nora, and thrice so. Each time this is staged however, in distinction (her moments of grief delineated through the avatars of his dead son), or in simultaneity (the bereavement syncopated in ternary rhythm), the dolour, because of the imposed repetition, is not pithy.

This peculiar Santo Entierro will only make sense if its triplication can be argued to originate from the Mater Dolorosa herself, and in a relation of correspondence that is less reaction than receipt. The peculiarity of this Pieta should also be mariologically immanent. If Christ could die thrice, of course, Mary should mourn in the same time signature. Nonetheless, the cinema of “Hinulid” must also elaborate how dolorous maternity is thrice possible from a Marian perspective. After all, the narrative is told by Sita, not from her son dying through three ages. The film cannot be assumed to be told “de profundis.”

Fray Marcos de Lisboa’s “Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol” defines “holid” as “recostar al niño en el regazo, o en la cuna.” To lay a child on one’s lap, or in his crib: these are acts of maternal nurturance. And yet this scene also makes sense as the Pieta, inasmuch as it exudes that moment of the Nativity. If Sita must inter her son thrice, it is because his death reminds her of the emptiness of her womb through his childhood, boyhood, youth. His death finally affirms the terminus of her being a woman. Hollowed out by loss, she embodies a desert longing. This must be Aunor’s late style thesis. My well of loneliness has been depleted. I am nothing. I have known all manner of fatigue. I was all womb before. Now, let me be his sepulchre.


And yet: Can this strange fruit return to me, a flower that has long faded? Did my body bear him only for this burial? Was my immaculate conception, my freedom from an originary offense, only a forethought to understanding this emptiness, my blessed virginity as sarcophagus? Did I visit Elizabeth to know of this gift, to be arid once more for the seed of my universal fertility?

Sita mourns the 1) body of her son: 2) the memory of the body she has reared; 3) and her own obsolescence, which she must remember and grieve in advance. Pace Blanchot, one is never present at one’s own death. If his son has faded ahead of her, the hour of her own death looms large in solitariness. Nora’s eyes are vacant to honor the imminence.

What is assumed in the Assumption is mariological mortality. Cordero’s catholic text recuperates such orthodoxy by intending to depict in the triplication the dormition of a conduit of divine indigeneity. Theotokos ruminates on that insight: Thanatos. Now we finally understand that Maria Purissima only ripens to intuit her own deliquescence.

Notwithstanding the truth that mourning the memory of the dearly departed can only be worked through intimately, the secrecy of grief must not be reduced to the sheer privations of the domestic. Memory is not stronger than justice. Memory is as strong as justice. If Cordero has written a screed against the capillaries of power through an indictment of a matrix of institutions which plot the murder of its most thoughtful activists, then an autopsy of power must be demanded, perhaps not through the parabolic distensions of folklore, but within a critical ethnography similar to Nancy Scheper Hughes’s study on “death without weeping” among mothers in a Brazilian necropolis. That Sita refuses the activation of social justice from this instance of motherly hurt turns the critique of institutional power into a perfunctory exercise of grievance that masks a reactionary undercurrent. If homo necans is explained as he is, a person who murders, killing outside the realm of law and in spite of it, now makes fatal sense. If Mary failed to seek justice against Judaic theocracy within Roman imperial jurisprudence, repetitions of such violation of sacred motherhood must be worked out in the post-colonial world, in our case, through the vernacular revolutions of the Pasyon traumaturgy.

“Hinulid” is a cinematic epic from Bikol, particularly a contact zone between the antipodes of catholic Naga and folk Legazpi; Rinconada, where the writer-director and the actress were born and raised, is the linguistic consciousness that seeks its visual form in the film. Iriga becomes the city full of grace. The literary education of the filmmaker entitles him to graft discourses of faith and science through a high modernist mode of narration characterized by heterochrony, expressionism, and a self-conscious system of trope-turning, so that metaphor becomes the principle of argument to argue for the transformation of the screenplay into an allegory of spirit whose rhetoricity takes over the exigencies of montage and mis-en-scène. The cornucopia of symbolic possibilities can be overwhelming, to the point that a scene becomes vacuous time-space. Guillermo Abrenica’s cinematographic approach understands Cordero’s vision of tropical languor and the tedium that such slowness entails. His camera, assisted by the scopic talents of Sherwin Cañamero, may be encumbered by immobility, but he allows portraits and still lives to occupy a landscape by turns verdant and grey, at times punctuated by the cardinal choices of art directors Ryan Cuatrona and Celine Belino to portray christophanic hemorrhage. Alec Figuracion’s editorial decisions are precise, seizure of distinctions and simultaneities is indefatigable, although sometimes almost undercut by Cordero’s desire to sprint against himself, as co-editor. The acting ensemble superbly orchestrates a heteroglossic tone variegating on the singular sentiment of melancholy, although Eilyn Nidea is most seductive as a high priestess of the mountains, Jess Volante’s Homeric exhortations are bone-piercing, and Delia Enverga’s crone-mother accesses the sublime objects of the funerary. Raffi Banzuela’s aphoristic style is peerless; he is also perspicacious as a trickster within the Church. Kirby Pala’s purity can disperse the darkest skepticism, while Ken Balmes’s recitals of Gerard Manley Hopkins interlocute the impressionable and the cynical inflections of Lukas’s persona; his caesuras can be full of breath. Jesus Mendoza’s nose is as almost perfect as the Mayon’s cone, but his emotive depths are as various as the Buhi lake. His ultimate version of Lukas is a romantic genius who cannot jump into the crucible of the infinite, because human, all too human to fail as lover and beloved.

In “Hinulid,” Nora Aunor returns to Bikol to mourn thrice, and die along that tropic percussion, against her own will, but in concert with the heart. Those eyes are vacated by sentimentality for the most part, because Sita’s condition pertains to the emotional fragment. The voice is broken, yes, but there must have been so much bliss in the chance to speak in the tongue of her earth, where her agonies and ecstasies remain untethered, through the language of her art made contemporary with the world and vernacular to history by this terrible son of her own homeland, Kristian Sendon Cordero. Memory is stronger than cinema.

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Posted by on 24 October 2016 in Uncategorized


In a brothel for poor men: Film Review of Louie Ignacio’s “Area”

by Nonoy L. Lauzon

The abrogation of the RP-US bases treaty and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo – that both occurred in 1991 – comprise the two back stories that inform the plot of Area. In the film that won for the country the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Eurasia International Film Festival in Kazakhstan where it had its world premiere, director Louie Ignacio examines the enclave of the poor man’s brothels in his native province of Pampanga that had seen better days prior to the end of American presence at Clark and the cataclysmic devastation wrought by Mt. Pinatubo.

A gallery of characters is presented to provide studies in contrast and individual differences as well as reveal the complex mix-and-match, cross and interplay of ideological convictions that may have allowed the out-of-the-ordinary enterprise to survive and persist. As perspicacity may be said to be one of the film’s pronounced virtues, one can only note its resolve to shun hysteria and sensationalism in dealing with its subject. It even assumes a self-deprecating, sardonic tone – the better to prevent it from wallowing, digressing and degenerating into self-pity and melodrama involving prostituted women.

What makes the film even more compelling is its attention to the four generations of a clan that has opted to keep the family business seemingly at all costs. The dynamics of their relations with the coterie of sex workers under their employ are fodder for gritty spectacle pointing to an ambivalent form of social order apparently oblivious of its dehumanizing sway.


Ai-Ai delas Alas as “Hillary” in Area

What is further manifested is another face of multi-layered Third-World squalor whereby societal contradictions abound. For one, the film is ironically set during Holy Week in the country showing protagonists partake of acts of atonement. The elder of the two matriarchs of the sinful house central to the film’s narrative fought as guerrilla during World War II while the other is battling an ailment that expectedly depletes household finances. Midway through the film with an incident of theft, the culprit turns out to be a barangay tanod constituting what could very well be the film’s critique of the country’s corrupt government that could be so heartless to readily rob even the poorest of its poor and the lowliest of its lowly.

In a gist, the film offers an unapologetic look at the community of sex workers and the subsistence economy that their trade embodies. Succeeding mainly as a milieu-driven and ensemble-performance picture with scenes alternately played for laughs and moments of stirring drama, the clever film says a mouthful about the country, its inhabitants and their craftsmanship for tactical ways of surviving and overcoming the toils and hardships of the day-to-day in whatever trade it may be.

The greatest of Filipino directors in past eras have had their individual celluloid takes on the lives of persons engaged in the oldest profession, filmmaker Louie Ignacio contributes to the pantheon with an indie feature that possesses all the attributes to be remembered for long. #

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Posted by on 23 October 2016 in Film Review, Philippine Film



Pagkilala sa Pinakamahusay na Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral ng 2015

J. Pilapil Jacobo

Tinutukoy ng kategoryang Pinakamahusay na Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral ang paglalapat ng mga aspektong may kinalaman sa tunog sa pelikula, musika, likas na tunog, sound effects, habang ang mga ito ay sumasalungat o inaayon sa lengguwahe ng mga imahen, at kung gayon ay nagiging makahulugang sistema ng pananagisag mismo. Iginagawad ang pagkilala sa sound engineer at sa tagapaglapat ng musika.

Nominado sina:

Gilbert Obispo at Jake Abella, para sa pelikulang Ari: My Life With A King, kung saan lubos na malikhain ang pagtatanghal sa matandang tradisyon ng panulaang Kapampangan na nakabatay sa taludturang pakikipagtalo ng Crissotan bilang sugpungan ng palatunugang bayan na patuloy na umuugat sa mga hangarin ng awiting bayan na “Atin Cu Pung Singsing” at sa mga ingay at katahimikang itinakda ng masakunang buhay sa paligid ng bulkan at baha.

Nominado rin sina:

Addis Tabong at Francis Concio para sa pelikulang Halik sa Hangin, na muling pinaigting ang mga pangungusap at pakiusap na kasangkot sa romantikong pag-uulayawan ng mga nilalang na magkaiba man ang mundo ay nauuwi pa rin ang palitan sa wagas na kapusukan ng puso ng tao. Napakatimyas ng talinghaga ng gitara bilang hudyat ng pagkakataon para sa pag-ibig na nilalagom ng pamaksang awitin na itinanghal ni Ebe Dancel, ang “Halik sa Hangin.”


Ang videoke (awitin ni Yoyoy Villame at imahe ni Kidlat Tahimik) sa Balikbayan # 1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III 


Subalit ang Pinakamahusay na Tunog at Orkestrasyong Awral para sa Taong Pampelikula ng 2015 ay iginagawad kina:

Ed de Guia, Los Indios de España, at Shanto para sa pelikulang Balikbayan # 1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III, na sa kanyang post-kolonyal kasaysayan ng ating bayan, ay naisasaysay rin ang salimbayan ng mga tunog, himig, at pananahimik na nagbibigay ng salimuot sa paggalugad ng ating abot-malay sa magiting na tinig ng pakikihamok at kalayaan. Mula sa palitan ng gangsa at ng plawta, sa ingay ng mga awiting bumubulwak mula sa mga makina, sa hindi matatawarang balintuna ni Yoyoy Villame, at pati na rin ng mga impit at ng mga hiningang nakapaloob sa mga wikang Tagalog, Ilokano, Bisaya, sa mga katagang nagugumiit ng kaibang salaysay mula sa Cordillera, sa mga matalas ngunit mapinsalang idyoma ng Espanyol at Ingles, matagumpay na naitutugtog ang isang makabuluhang sipat sa talatinigang bayan na sa pandinig ng laging may hinuha, hinding hindi mapapara.

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Posted by on 12 October 2016 in Uncategorized