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.
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.