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.
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. #