Monthly Archives: November 2016

Northern Nocturne: Critique of “Malinak Ya Labi”

J. Pilapil Jacobo

If there is any inflection of cinema that can grasp the truth of the tropics, no other perspective can lay claim to the apprehension but a film from the region, or from a province or district that essays the particularity of filmmaking from a singular location. What else can intuit the idiom of a zone but a vernacular audition of the world that protects the rapture of place and at the same time incites the rhapsodic instance to vanish at the time of enravishment?

Jose Abdel Langit’s “Malinak Ya Labi” is the first Pangasinan narrative film, and it may also be the first contemporary Filipino motion picture to have understood what it means to be situated in the equatorial tropics, or at least from the latitude of, let’s say, Binobolinao. And yet, while the truth that is disclosed as folk may be misconstrued as always already torrid, the region of the ravage is demonstrated as something beyond the sweetness of summer or the melancholy of monsoon. The moment of the tropic is night. And its site is northern.

If the Kapampangan poetic of “Ari: My Life With A King” is premised on “Atin Cu Pung Singsing,” Langit’s “Malinak Ya Labi” affirms that the regional film can only ground its vision on folk tonality and the dissonances that can be heard as it runs contrapuntally along the syncopations of the modern.

Some translations of the condition of “linak” may gesture toward a state of “peacefulness,” but the film insists on a more fundamental supplement to music: “silence.” However, unlike Adolf Alix’s “Kalayaan,” where the interval colonizes the auditory landscape until cinema itself is aurally fixated with its own chiasmic duress, “Malinak Ya Labi” accepts silence as a principle of sound itself, where voice, rhythm, noise are habituated to imagine a sense of ambience, answer what surrounds the tropical world, and open up the discourse of the tropical time that eviscerates what is commonplace in a scopophiliac relation to the tropical image.

Visuality is further abducted by the contiguity that is demanded as soon as the “linak” turns opaque, into “labi”; the negative is attracted to itself, and yet the coupling does not accumulate into absence. “Malinak Ya Labi” demarcates its region of ravage as a northern nocturne, in the silence of salt, through the fioriture of ferment. How does a saltflower bloom under the Pangasinan moon?

As in “Ari,” we don’t get to hear the song of the folk till the end, but “Malinak” rigorously frames the sonorous sensibility of the film. The rubric of the “silent night” transposes itself through the various tonal themes framing episodes of the narrative. The most dramatic of these musical incarnations is an operatic piece scored in the middle of a riot one carnival night. I do not have access to the Pangasinan lyric right now (that would enable me to engage the music philologically), but the translation of the aria sung by a spinto refers to “night” conceiving “daylight”; a “star” as a “smile of the dark”; and ultimately, the lunar “heart” eclipsing into its balsamic “night.” What logic of the trope would subsume solarity under all things umbral? The afternoon in the southern manor as axiomatic moment of the languorous dalliance no longer constitutes the pivot of the tropic day. From a promontory along the narrowest northern strait,”Malinak Ya Labi” celebrates the gibbous event!


Althea Vega in a scene from “Malinak Ya Labi”

Pangasinan tropicality supervenes the possibility of romance and of course an erotic with the premise of “bagat,” the blood sacrifice that is offered to an edifice so that the spirits won’t imperil the integrity of building. The source of the blood is decidedly animal, but “Malinak Ya Labi” complicates the matter by telling a story of how a child was stolen on the eve of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and whose body was left as “bagat” to inaugurate a bridge connecting a quaint isle and the Pangasinan mainland. The gift is itself poison; and the time given in exchange for the toxin can no longer deceive borrowed life. Silent is the northern night, and the tropical truth it can only reveal is terminal. The moon waxes red for the death of an innocent. Welcome to the necrotropics!

Lorenzo Fernandez Cosgaya’s “Diccionario Pangasinan-Español” (1865) defines “bagat” as “sacrificio, ofrenda, convite.” The colonial lexicon carries the divinity of the present in the Latin senses of “sacrificus” (from sacer: holy) and “offere” (to God) as dimensions of the Pangasinan gift that is “bagat,” while the sense of community in “convivium” enlarges the sacrifice/offering as tribal, a pact made by the collective on behalf of its members; as a gift whose scale is total, “bagat,” pace Marcel Mauss, is indeed potlatch. If what is served in the banquet is none the less human blood, who sits at the head of the table? God?

We are told about the hours leading to the child’s death through shifting perspectives arrayed to us in a series of intertwined vignettes on the lives of certain figures in the town of Putot (Severed): Domingo, husband of carnival mermaid; Amanda, naïve but devoted schoolteacher; Salvador, sweet-talking soldier; Silvano, saltmaker; Teofilo, fortune teller; and Emmanuel, who becomes the “bagat.”

A common figure in these tales of the Pangasinan everyday is Carmen, the collector of bets who is grandmother to Emmanuel and wife to Teofilo. We never know whether Carmen finds Emmanuel’s body, but she navigates a day in the town attending wakes and requiem masses, while gossiping about the dead and speculating on how certain numerical combinations on death instances might spell good fortune for the living. As we follow through the forlorn lives of the folk, we discover that deaths of children, young women, and old men have been random and regular in Putot town, and somehow, the storytelling persuades us to realize that everyone has been complicit with a culture of impunity. The necrotropic has seeped into habit.

As a folk song, “Malinak Ya Labi” describes how on a “silent night,” someone awakes with a longing for a beloved long absent from the dreamer’s life. The desire does not debilitate, however, as the remembrance banishes sorrow from the heart (Napunaslan ami’y ermen ya ag bibiten). To protect the memory of the love is the point of loving (in fact, in the absence of the beloved, to remember one performs the requisite passion), and remembrance possesses an acumen that might transcend the incipience of death (No nodnonoten ko ray samit day ugalim/Agtaka nalingwanan, anggad kaoyos na bilay

Langit’s “Malinak” transforms the song of his folk into an elegy; the film becomes a work of mourning, because the filmmaker’s grief is crystalline, like the salt of his earth. If the gift that must be received is death, the only way to love is to refuse forgetting. “Triste tropiques,” again and again. And how lovely is the loneliness! Its time is attenuated, like the salt of the fish that is made pure inside the jar that houses the ferment. Within that ecliptic space, the universe is always turning, darkly, into the vast silence, where love is most touching: “Ta pilit na pusok ya sika lay amamayoen.”

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Posted by on 21 November 2016 in Uncategorized


The “Edsa” of Our Captivity

Nonoy L. Lauzon

Ingenious it may be and without the baggage of having to recreate historical pageantry, Yapan’s populist feature packs a wallop of heavy commentary – the better to enlighten today’s generation on the true state of the nation with a constituency that has remained mired in mass poverty and powerlessness.


Kris Bernal and Aljur Abrenica from a scene in “EDSA”


Thirty years after people power overthrew the dictatorship that had tyrannized the archipelagic nation, the metropolitan thoroughfare that was the site of the revolt endures to be symbolical in myriad incantations. In the ensemble film written and directed by Alvin B. Yapan plainly titled Edsa, this much is deduced. It managed to be finished in time for Edsa 30 festivities as a memorial to a people’s triumph and saga of liberation. Not that such is the expectation, but the film is not a reenactment of the gathering at Edsa for four days in February 1986 in a collective expression of the popular will to topple an oppressive regime.

What viewers are given instead is a contemporary portrait of a people’s interconnected lives as they navigate the long stretch of the road that would forever have an impact on the history of an entire nation as much as on the personal stories of its individual citizens.

With Edsa the film, Yapan presupposes that it is the ordinary people who drive the engines of history. It may not be the country’s leaders and the mighty politico imbibing enormous affluence and influence that alter the course of the nation but the faceless throng embarking on a united front and propelled to shared action. History from below is much more useful to look into than the actuations of the so-called great and heroic few said to have shaped the country’s destiny.

It is quite a radical position to take especially in the light of dominant precepts in tackling history in film. To regard history from the grassroots appears to offer much allure, hold more promise and engender better prospects for the attainment of progress and empowerment for the general populace.

As Yapan resolved to focus his lens on the seemingly superficial and banal goings-on at today’s Edsa involving the sentiments and struggles of average people, a bigger and far more valid and valuable picture of the national situation emerges. It may just be the proper strategy to tap in order to precisely correct certain misconceptions and false myths surrounding the uprising of three decades back. Now it can be seen that what had once been the Edsa of liberation has persisted to also be the Edsa of despair and disgruntlement, of unfulfilled aspirations, of broken dreams and of a people’s thwarted spirit and, yes, lingering captivity.

(This review was originally posted in

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Posted by on 14 November 2016 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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Triste Trafic: Critique of “EDSA”

J. Pilapil Jacobo

“EDSA” (Alvin Yapan, 2016) is not so much about the thoroughfare, but the affairs of movement and immobility which beleaguer Philippine modernity.

The narrative shifts from day to night, from one vignette to another episode in the lives of several subjects of the third world metropolis: hooligans riding in tandem; an opinionated nurse commuting from Bulacan; public school teachers from the Southern Tagalog attending a K-12 conference; a heartless yuppie working in Makati. To initiate the encounter of these characters, a motif of retardation is pursued through their foray into the city, riding motorcycles, buses, taxi cabs, private cars, trains, and getting stalled at every opportunity. Alvin Yapan employs non-movement as a strategy of storytelling. Hence, the traffic is not only about the circulation of vehicular movement but also the intersection of emotional passages. This is our contemporary “Decameron,” and Alvin Yapan is Giovanni Boccaccio to the Philippine post-colony.

At the heart of this traffic is a contraband whose pharmakon is worked out by Yapan within a method of deliberative agency. When the socius is born and raised from this problematic, “triste tropiques” then turns into “triste traffic.” The melancholy becomes current, and the drive toward happiness renders itself immediate. If the human instance of crime can be attributed to ruthless structures of political economy, social entanglements may be worked through ethically. To live in the city is indeed forlorn, because one is estranged from one’s neighbor; one cannot survive modernity without a sense of responsibility toward the other. Such is the call of the contemporary.


Aljur Abrenica as Jun in Alvin Yapan’s EDSA 


As a response, “EDSA” is Yapan’s cinematic aesthetic assuming Christian humanist form. The film is a romance with the urban failure of Metro Manila. It resolves emergency through the happenstance of compassion even as the political economic arrangement of Philippine society has reduced our concepts of social accountability to negligible acts of civic decency. Is this Christian humanist attitude toward the vagaries of metropolitan Manila the most compelling analysis of the same Christian democratic revolution that the film seeks to subject to critique after 30 years?

Yapan affirms his position only to disavow it. He argues that while the theology behind the abrogation of violence had enabled us to internalize principles of social justice, it did not free our faith from Roman Catholic impunity, particularly from the imperialist ideology that dissuades one’s consciousness from believing religious imagery may also assume ethnic embodiments. Yapan bemoans the failure of post-colonial mariology in the third world metropolis, and yet he still hopes all will not be lost, that we will deliver us from our own concupiscence.

The polis is doxis. Politics is our poison. Critique is the gift. In democracy, crisis is not managed, but generated. Yapan intimates: this sense of the democratic isn’t even exceptional, it should permeate the demotic. If such is the case, then a history of the Philippine revolution can only be in order, “everyday,” but only after oligarchic claims to the metanarratives of nationhood have been challenged, “everyday.” The putative gains of the revolt of 1986 should only be able to shed light on the ostensible losses of the uprising of 1896. It has been a long day’s journey into the night of our republic. By singling out vestiges of fin-de-siècle violences through the predicaments of contemporary habits of mind as they are projected upon disparate and yet coordinated events in the third world metropolis, “EDSA” offers a novelistic account of quotidian tragedy as well as a cautionary tale on mundane farce.

Yapan’s multi-character format is performed with relish by a thoughtful ensemble of actors most keen on traversing the magnitude of Manila’s metropolitan space through little incidents that are nevertheless prone to historicizing and allegorization. Of all these social intellects, Kris Bernal articulates the Christian humanist attitude most persuasively. Her travel from indifference to empathy is a lesson on thespic patience. We would have wanted to see Aljur Abrenica dip into despair, but his beauty is way too affable for the abyss. Hayden Kho surprises with a modicum of pedestrian accessibility, although he has a tendency to brood with too much haste. Sue Prado is typecast as a headstrong woman from the province, but her subtle capitulation to urbane romance can be endearing.

“EDSA” offers a novel approach to an impossibly propagandistic topos of our contemporary memory. The film almost escapes the pitfalls of political nostalgia; “almost,” because that submission to a specific primary color in the narrative closure somehow obfuscates the critique of radical ardor that could have been pursued as a phenomenology of revolutionary spirit. For some, we might not be ready for such supersession. Only a few are unafraid to be swept away by the overcoming.


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Posted by on 04 November 2016 in Philippine Film