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Monthly Archives: February 2017

‘Minsan Pa’: Mga Pagtalunton sa Pagitan ng Pamamaalam at Pagdating

Eli R. Guieb III

Minsan, ang pamamaalam ay isang pagdating.  At ang mga pagdating, kadalasan ay mga pamamaalam.  At magkahalong panghihinayang at pag-asa ang binubuhay, pilit na binubuhay, sa mga masikip na oras na sinisikap pagkasyahin sa pagitan ng mga payapang pagtatagpo at paglisan, sa tahimik na pagtalunton sa diwa at unawa.  Ito ang buod ng komplexidad ng mga naglalagalag na damdaming pinilit himayin ng matalinong pelikulang Minsan Pa ni Jeffrey Jeturian sa panulat ni Armando Lao.

Kung tutuusin ay hindi naman kakaiba ang kuwento ng pelikula, subalit kakaiba at malalim ang paghawak ng direktor at iskripwriter sa mga emosyon ng mga tauhan, maging sa emosyon ng mga kontextualisadong visualidad ng kondisyong material ng mga tauhan sa isang tiyak na panahon at lugar ng mga pagtatagpo at pamamaalam.  Pinagsanib, pinagtunggali at kalaunan ay pinaghiwalay ng pelikula ang samu’t saring pinagdaraanang emosyong personal ng mga ordinaryong mamamayang umiinog ang buhay sa sentralidad ng Cebu bilang isang siyudad na umaagapay sa mga nagbabagong hugis ng globalisadong urbanidad.  Sa pagitan ng humanidad ng mga koneksyong pantao at ng deshumanidad ng mga koneksyong binubuo ng globalisadong kapital ay ipinahiwatig ng pelikula, sa isang napakapayapang pamamaraan, ang nagsasalimbayang koneksyon at diskoneksyon ng mga sarili at mga kolektibong sariling nabubuhay sa higop ng mekanikal na urbanisasyon, kasabay ang pagtalunton ng mga indibidwal sa mga hinahanap na espasyo ng sarili.

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Ara Mina at Jomari Yllana sa Minsan Pa (2004)

Walang pagtatangkang maging lantarang pulitikal ang Minsan Pa, pero sapól ng pelikula ang dimensyong kultural ng mga binabagong ugnayang pantao na umuusbong sa isang sitwasyong ang mga tinaguriang kalakarang global ay nanunuot sa mga kondisyong lokal, at kung paanong ang hulí (kondisyong lokal) ay umaagapay o di-kaya’y tumatalilis, minsan ay umiigpaw, sa una (kalakarang global).  Bagamat may tendensyang maging palaiwás ang pagtalakay ng Minsan Pa sa mga sanhing pulitikal ng mga ganitong pagbabago sa lipunan ay masinop naman nitong napanghawakan ang makinis nitong paghimay sa mga magkakapatong na subtextong kultural kung saan ang mga pamamaalam at pagdating, kadalasan, ay bunga hindi lamang ng mga personal na paglalakabay ng mga damdamin kundi ng mga puwersang pulitiko-kultural na nakakawing pa rin sa mga indibidwal na sarili.

Namumukod-tangi ang paggamit ng pelikula sa mga imahe ng mata ng tao at lente ng kamera bilang mga suhestyon sa pagbibigay-visyon sa mga posibilidad ng iba’t ibang hugis ng relasyong personal at iba’t ibang anyo ng ugnayang panlipunan, maging sa mga probabilidad ng paglaho ng mga koneksyon at visyong ito.  Sa pelikula, ang turismo, halimbawa, ay isang anyo ng voyeurismo o pamboboso, isang paraan ng pagkalakal sa kahirapan ng mga Filipino, at tusong palengke sa pambubugaw ng mga naghihingalong pangako sa mga inaakalang katuparan ng mga pangarap.  Sa mga kondisyong ito ay inilarawan ng pelikula ang magkakakawing na deshumanidad at humanidad ng mga tauhan, lugar at panahon (e.g., ang lente ng kamera na kumukupkop sa mga paít at saya ng nakaraan subalit parang multong nanunudyo sa pagpapadaloy ng kasalukuyan; ang naglahong paningin ng mata kasabay ng pagdilim ng tutunguhing relasyon).  Tinipon at isinubi ng maraming indibidwal sa lente ng kani-kanilang mga personal na gunita ang kimkim-kimkim na maliliit na kuwento ng ordinaryong pamumuhay, na sa pagdaloy ng pelikula ay nagpapakapal sa textura ng karimlan at panlulupaypay ng visyong panlipunan ng pagkabansang Filipino.

Ang pag-apuhap ng pag-asa buhat sa nakaraan, ang pagbubuo ng mga pangarap tungo sa kung anuman ang maaaring harapin sa bukas, ang pagpapatibay ng bukas sa pamamagitan ng pagharap sa mga hamon ng ngayon, ang pagbibigay-buhay sa mga naglalahong visyon ng pag-ibig at pamumuhay bilang mga marangal na tao, ang pagsaliksik at pagsagip sa mga lumubog na pangarap, ang mga internal na paglalakbay sa sarili na hindi kumakaligta sa nakaugnay na mga paglalakbay sa labas ng sarili: sa lahat ng ito, ang mga pamamaalam at pagdating ay hindi laging pamamaalam at pagdating; ang mga pagdating ay nagiging pamamaalam at ang mga pamamaalam ay naghuhigis pagdating.

Maihahanay ang Minsan Pa sa iilang matinong pelikulang Filipino na pumapaksa sa tema ng mga nagbabagong ugnayang personal na nakapaloob sa mga empirikal na kondisyong material ng natatarantang lipunan.  Ipinagpapatuloy ng Minsan Pa ang mga pagsisikap ng mga nauna nang pelikulang kinakitaan ng katulad na estilo ng paglalahad at pagdalumat.  Ilang halimbawa ay ang Soltero ni Pio de Castro, Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising ni Mike de Leon, at Ikaw ay Akin ni Ishmael Bernal.  Sa mga pelikulang tulad ng Minsan Pa at ng mga kahawig na pelikulang nauna rito, nabibigyan ng katarungan ang pagtalakay at explorasyon sa komplexidad ng magkasalikop na mga personal na paggalugad sa katuturan ng sarili at kolektibong pamumuhay, bagamat kadalasan ay watak-watak na pamumuhay, ng mga Filipino na pilit na umuukit ng makataong pakikipagkapwa sa gitna ng kontemporaneong deshumanisasyon ng ugnayang pantao.

At bihira lamang, minsanan lamang kung tutuusin, ang bilang ng mga pelikulang Filipinong matinong humaharap sa ganitong hamon.  Isa rito ang Minsan Pa.

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Look After: Critique of ‘Foster Child’ (2007)

Patrick Flores

The film may on the surface be uneventful. Thelma Manlangqui goes about her errands as mother and wife on a typical morning, with the banal bustle that attends the ritual, except that her family, with husband and two sons, is quite exceptional. In their split-level shack in the belly of the city, she takes care of a foster child, whom the government had entrusted her; the boy named John-John would soon be handed over to American parents who had sought him for adoption. The film revolves around this event, beginning with the descent of a social worker into the depths of the slums to the moment when Thelma hands his charge over to his new parents in a posh hotel that does not only offer stark contrast to the squalor of his origin; it becomes the site of a deeply touching and troubling instance of cinematic experience in which the foster mother’s world falls apart in a skyscraper of marble baths.

The event, therefore, ceases to be a mere element of the plot. It is an event that takes in a sense of the total, the totality of society inscribed in a fairly straightforward sequence of incidents that seems to happen in a day, in a singular stroke. We say this because such an everyday circumstance translates into a consequence of historical forces congealing to produce precisely an event of this nature, with contradictions of class, gender, and race playing out to generate exemplary pathos and profound perturbation.

FOSTER CHILD, (aka JOHN JOHN), Cherry Pie Picache, Kier Segundo, 2007. ©Ignatius Film

FOSTER CHILD, Cherry Pie Picache, Kier Segundo, 2007. 

And this operates not merely in terms of discourse, but aesthetically as well. The ethnographic approach of director Brillante Mendoza intimates a stalking effect that threads us through the social thickness of what may appear to be everyday routine. It surfaces for us an aspect of life as it settles like sediment of a residual socio-economic system. On the other hand, it gestures toward a passage from the hovel to Manila’s highways and on to that transient station called a hotel. And then this: the final crash of maternal sentiment when Thelma realizes that her “son” had been taken away and that she could not do anything about it, a chronicle of a loss foretold but likewise a tale of the devout wish of wistful belonging, indeed a reversal and deferral of maternality. At this point, melodrama flirts with melancholy, tragedy with the realism of soap opera, an uncanny liaison that takes us to the most fraught of ties, the most alienating of emotions, and an emergent tone and terrain of affection.

The critical scene, and the episode that renders the film thoroughly cinematic, is when Thelma takes John-John, whose diuretic urge had intensified that day presumably because of stress, to the hotel bathroom. Here foster mother and foster child find themselves alone, confined to the affluence of a suite, the fixtures of which they do not know how to use: they turn the faucets the wrong way and the water spills all over the place. It is the mess, this nervousness, the inability to grasp the structure of power that becomes the film’s political logic, the sign of an aporia or impasse, the impossibility of not knowing how to carry out something very basic, to go about everyday life, something as rudimentary as it had been demonstrated in the prefigurative ablutions of the initial tableaux. It is as if, all of a sudden, everything becomes strange, unfamiliar, indifferent, formidable.

Foster Child is most productively viewed in relation to last year’s most accomplished film Inang Yaya and one of this year’s most revealing projects, Endo. The former speaks of surrogate motherhood and the latter of the contractualization of labor. It may motivate us to draw connections between these three narratives: of how work in the nation has been shaped by contractualization, more specifically subcontracting, surviving on exchange with short-term benefits and with enduring costs to well being and the capacity to truly love. In a significant way, these three portraits depict certain biopolitical formations in Philippine society: how bodies have become irreducibly the very “things” that have been produced for circulation as “labor” and whose romantic, erotic, and filial feelings have been compromised, and in fact, even effaced. We tend to forget that John-John has a biological mother, too, absent though she may be on the screen. And it is the nation-state that finances fostering as part of “social work and community development” in the era of globalization.

In light of a layered screenplay, a deft direction that scrupulously harnesses the potential of digital technology with nary an affectation, and astonishingly sensitive performances from the cast, most particularly Cherry Pie Picache’s valiant effort to nuance degrees of being fleeting and eternal Mother, the film deserves to be the favored child of 2007, the posterity of a dear departed industry.

(This essay first appeared in YCC’s 18th Annual Circle Citations program, August 2008.)

 
 

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Methods of Melancholy: Critique of ‘Bakal Boys’ (2009)

J. Pilapil Jacobo

The habit of locating the landscape of a purported independent cinema in almost every destitute milieu in the metropolis raises the ethical concern of what remains to be told when scenographic procedures, in their absolute exposure of urban poor indignity, almost always preclude subjects from essaying a human position against and in spite of their social predicament. The poor have nothing left to say in poverty pornography. The subaltern is denied of all chance to reside in in the social circuits of language, and participate in the militant struggle for a better life, as a figure of—in Native American literary critic Gerald Vizenor’s terms—“survivance.”

And yet, Bakal Boys seems to exhibit a behavior that departs from the exercises of screen exoticisms. The film premises its deviations on the question of grief, and asks whether one could still mourn when survival, particularly its material possibility, is always already a deplorable social condition. How does a character grieve when sentiments are not permitted to seep into the system, to take even the form of a “structure of feeling”? When persons seek emotional closure within this economic order, what sentimental practices are laid out as the markers of collapse and recovery?

In the case of Ralston Jover’s piece, what remains compelling in the setting up of the scenes of impoverishment is a spectrum of melancholic methods that bereaved subjects employ, because the loss can only be worked through in intimate terms.

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Bungal (Vincent Olano) disappears during an expedition of a band of Baseco boys to look for an anchor that older divers have left behind after finding a sunken boat. Of a temperament almost too intense for his age, Bungal believes in mermaids who could offer one a felicitous streak of luck. He also tells of his seaside town where fishermen may never return from sea. We see him drawing on the sand crosses simulating that cemetery of the sad tropics. Knowing the fanciful and the deathly, Bungal must depart from the narrative to give way to the choreographic instances of bereavement when the situation is routinely proposed as desensitizing and its random characters far from sensitive performers, if not at all sensate subjects.

Two figures of mourning are to be examined as species born and raised from Bungal’s disappearance.

The first is already familiar, for it is tense, vigorous, histrionic. And although there is always space for the gestures of the abandoned kin, Nanay Salvia (Gina Pareño), the grandmother who offers it all up to Allah, should be the last in a long line of such figures of anxiety. Hysteria is of course almost absent in the depiction, to be fair to Ms. Pareño, but we feel this species of traumaturgy has reached an exhausted phase; her body of grief interprets the phrases of entreaty to be translatable as nervous postures in the face of mortality.

Utoy (Meljun Ginto), best friend of the disappeared, demonstrates the other figure of mourning; his is a subject considered alien to such emotive exchanges. What does a child know of that abyss, loneliness? The figure that exposes us as unbelievers is that of patience. Utoy awaits the return of his friend as much as he anticipates an understanding of the disappearance itself. He searches for him in the various sites of their friendship: in the alleys of their mischief, and by the shores of their play. When the waiting ends, this figure marks the sand as cemeterial, as the ground of the leave-taking. All this he must ritualize in silence, which is only broken when she seeks out Nanay Salvia, for an embrace. And how does one read that final frame? That immersion into the waters of the bay could teach us about survivance—into an age of iron of what could be a man of steel at last, even with that speechless body.

 
 

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‘Minsan Pa’: The Camera Obscured and Luna’s Vision

Eloisa May P. Hernandez

The camera plays an integral and integrative role in the film Minsan Pa.  It is a repository of a woman’s visions: her past, present, and the promise of a future.

Filmed entirely in Cebu, it stars Jomari Yllana as Jerry, a tour guide to the “Queen City of the South” for local and foreign, mostly Japanese, tourists.  He sells not only the sites and sounds of Cebu, but also pimps the women and eventually prostitutes himself. However, there is a sense that for Jerry, there is no such thing as a free lunch; everything has a price. It is part of his trade: he lives on commissions, tips, favors, and has mastered the art of bartering.  There is goodness in Jerry, though, as the breadwinner of his family, he sacrifices his own needs and wants for his mother and two siblings, and stands as the patriarch of the family. In return, he wields control over his mother and siblings (mother’s attempt to go back to teaching, his brother’s gambling, his sister’s emotional outburst).

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Luna (Ara Mina) is a pre-school teacher who joined one of Jerry’s tours and is apparently running away from her philandering boyfriend, Alex.  The whole trip, she holds her camera almost all the time, like a security blanket, ready to shoot (and even used it to shut up an irritating boy). Alex follows her to Cebu to woo her.  On a boating trip, the camera accidentally falls off the boat (which could have been avoided if she had the good sense to put the strap around her neck) and plunges deep in the sea. The camera takes a symbolic metamorphosis here as it is blinded, obscured by the depths of the sea.

Alex proposes marriage but reneges on his marriage proposal as he is blinded by a vehicular accident. Luna goes back to Cebu and, with the help of Jerry, goes on a mission to recover the camera.

The camera takes on a symbolic and real significance to Luna. To be photographed is to bear witness to one’s presence, as Pierre Bourdieu posited.  Luna photographs Alex, to affirm his presence in her life, to affirm a time of happiness, as Luna’s presence in Alex’s life is also affirmed.  The camera is a witness of, and an affirmation, of Luna’s visions of a nostalgic past filled with happiness. However, a photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence, the late Susan Sontag wrote. The photographs in Luna’s camera serve as a pseudo-presence (of her past with a tinge of nostalgia) and a token of absence (of her present without Alex).

Jerry’s affection for Luna grows as he misinterprets Luna’s trip as a sign of reciprocal affection. Thinking that Luna is weakened when Alex left her, Jerry tries to barter love and protection to Luna.   Sadly, for Jerry, his love is unrequited. He is weakened by his inability to give, to help, and to love without expecting anything in return. His selfish notions about love blind him. Jerry, the tour guide, knows the landscapes of Cebu but is misguided in the landscapes of the heart.

The loss of Alex’s vision is symbolic of his loss of power and the ability to gaze. Alex thinks that his blindness weakens him, and he doubts Luna’s love for him.  He is blinded, physically and emotionally (and even turns mute as he is almost devoid of any lines towards the end of the film).  For Luna, the recovery of the camera, and the images of their happiness it contains, validate the fact that they shared a past, a proof that nothing has changed, and the potentials of a future. As Alex loses his vision, Luna holds on to hers.

Luna shines through the movie despite the very macho Jerry who thinks she is a damsel-in-distress to be saved.  She who stands at the door of the hotel, deciding whether to invite Jerry to dinner (or not), as she repels the advances of Jerry.  Luna remains steadfast in her vision of a life with Alex, with or without his sight. It is Luna who holds the camera – the woman, in a reversal, who is the bearer of the gaze.

Luna’s name (moon as light source, photography as “light writing”) bears her vision: to shed light on two blind and weak men.  Luna sheds light on the obscured goodness in Jerry’s heart, emotionally blinded, and transforms him.  Luna’s love shines bright through the blinded heart of Alex.  It is Luna who enables the two men to regain a vision of themselves, and inevitably, to “see” again.

Defying the laws of probability and even of possibility that the camera and the film will survive the ravages of the sea, it is the audience (not Luna, Jerry or Alex) who will behold the visions of Luna – images etched on the silver coated negative, projected on the silver screen of the cinema house at the end of the film.  In Minsan Pa, cinema revisits its predecessor and pays homage to the camera (and the camera obscura) as it embarks on a journey of enlightenment and a fulfillment of a woman’s vision.  Minsan Pa illuminates an old cliche: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

 
 

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Rekompigurasyon ng lipunan alinsunod sa pananaw ni Amanda sa ‘Dekada ’70’

Ariel N. Valerio

Pinaksa ng Dekada ’70 ang isa sa mga pinakamaligalig at pinakamasalimuot na yugto ng kontemporanyong lipunang Pilipino. Sa pagtatangka pa lamang na halughugin ang lalim at lawak ng naturang panahon, isang mabigat na atas na agad ang ipinatong ng pelikula sa
sarili at sa manonood nito. Sa pamamayani ng Batas Militar, maraming realidad ang siniil (suppressed), itinatwa (ignored) at binaligtad (inverted) ng estado upang panatilihin ang status quo; bagay na lubusang nagpahirap sa mga historyador upang kumpirmahin ang
makabuluhang kilos ng kasaysayan.

Mas mahirap ang naging gawain ng mga alagad ng sining sapagkat sila ang tuwirang target ng mekanismo ng kooptasyon. Ilang libro ang ipinalathala ni Marcos sa pangalan niya upang sustinihan ang propaganda ng “rebolusyon mula sa gitna”. May mga manunulat na kinabig ng estado upang magpalaganap ng “magandang balita” o ng “bagong lipunan”. Itinatag din ang Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Center, at ang Film Center upang umawit ng osana sa rehimen.

Sa huling bahagi ng dekada sitenta, polarisado na ang lipunan. Dalawa lamang ang pagpipilian ng artista: maging instrumento ng propaganda ng gobyerno o maging mapagpalayang tinig ng sambayanang Pilipino. Sa ganitong uri ng tunggalian, walang panggitna o nyutral na posisyon.

Isa ang nobelang Dekada ’70 sa mga likhang sining sa panahon ng Batas Militar na tuwirang tumuligsa sa diktadura ni Marcos. Ito ang pinagbatayan ng pelikulang dinirihe ni Chito Roño. Mula sa indibidwalisadong proseso ng produksyon (literatura), isinalin ang materyal sa isang mala-kolektibong proseso ng paglikha. Sa una, kontrolado ng manunulat bawat titik na gagamitin sa nobela; sa ikalawa, walang iisang pwersang maaaring magdikta ng direksyon.

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Itinuturing na mala-kolektibo ang paglikha ng pelikula sapagkat kawangis ng proseso ang kolektibong pagdesisyon ng isang grupo ng mga indibidwal na nakatuon sa isang produkto. Ngunit hindi ito lubusang kolektibo dahil may de-kahong papel ang mga taong sangkot sa proseso-halimbawa, hindi maaaring pakialaman ng sinematograper ang editor-kaya wala ring nagaganap na palitan at negosasyon ng mga ideya. Sa halip, nagiging dominanteng pwersa ang prodyuser na may pangunahing interes hindi sa sining ng pelikula kundi sa kalansing ng pera sa takilya.

Kung gayon, tatlong pangunahing balakid ang agad matatagpuan sa landas ng paglikha ng pelikulang Dekada ’70: 1) paggagap sa kontekstong historikal, 2) pagsalin sa anyong pampelikula, at 3) pagtugon sa kahingian ng industriya nang hindi ikinokompromiso ang sining.

Paano humulagpos ang pelikula sa mga balakid na ito?

Paggagap sa kontekstong historikal

Mayaman sa historikal na alusyon ang pelikula. Pinagsikapan nitong isabuhay ang mga pangkalahatang katangian ng panahon-rali ng mga estudyante, pag-alis ng writ of habeas corpus, pagdeklara ng Batas Militar, pagpataw ng curfew, human rights violations, paglawak ng kilusang protesta. Tumatahi sa mga ito ang mga mumunting pangyayari
sa pang-araw-araw na buhay ng pamilya Bartolome-pamumundok ni Jules, pagsali ni Gani sa US Navy, pagkapatay kay Jason-na walang humpay ding nagpatahip sa dibdib ni Amanda at nagpatingkad sa tunggalian nila ni Julian.

Nagbukas at nagsara ang pelikula sa tila dokumentaryong film clips ng multi-sektoral na kilos-protesta laban sa diktadura ni Marcos. Isa-isang tinalunton pagkatapos ang mga insidenteng nagpamulat sa isang ordinaryong maybahay tulad ni Amanda. Mapapansing hindi hiwalay ang pagtalakay sa pangkalahatang sitwasyon ng lipunan sa partikular
na kondisyon ng pamilyang Bartolome. Maipagpapalagay, kung gayon, na itinaguyod ng pelikula ang paradimang “ang personal ay pulitikal.”

“Ang mga kamay na nag-uugoy ng duyan ang mga kamay na nagpapaikot ng mundo,” wika ni Amanda sa simula ng pelikula. Ito ang tesis na binigyan ng kontra-tesis sa patriarkal na pananaw ni Julian. “It’s a man’s world,” mayabang na bigkas ng lalaki habang nasa hapag ang buong pamilya. “Every man must have something to die for,” uulitin niya sa ibang okasyon, “para matawag siyang lalaki.”

Nagsalimbayan ang kontradiksyon sa tatlong lunan ng lahi, uri at sari. Walang linyar na pokus ang pagpapatampok sa mga ito. Sa halip, dumaloy ang buong kwento sa kamalayan ni Amanda. Nagtapos ito sa personal na rekompigurasyon ng babae sa kanyang lipunan habang patuloy ding nagbabago ang kanyang materyal na kondisyon.

Paghulagpos sa anyo

Sa isang pormalistang suri, bagsak talaga ang Dekada ’70. Buhaghag ang naratibo. Hindi nakatulong ang ibang eksena para patindihin ang kasukdulan. Palipat-lipat ang punto de bista sa loob at labas ng tahanan, kamalayan at lipunan ni Amanda.

Ngunit kung babakasin ang pelikula mula sa nobela, napakalayo ng narating ng Dekada ’70. Mula simpleng pagsipi ng mga taludtod mula sa The Prophet ni Kahlil Gibran, napatingkad ng pelikula ang kabuluhan ng mga ito sa pamamagitan ng mga tauhan. Mula pagsipi ng datos sa Ibon Facts and Figures, isinabuhay ng pelikula ang sanhi ng paglawak
ng protesta. Gayundin, mula sa mga larawang iginuhi ng mga salita ni Lualhati Bautista sa nobela, nabuhay ang mga karakter upang patuloy na ipagunita sa manonood ang pinakamadilim na yugto ng kontemporanyong kasaysayang Pilipino.

Humulagpos ang pelikula mula sa nobela. Sinubukan ding humulagpos ng pelikula sa sarili nitong genre. Sinimulan ni Lino Brocka sa Orapronobis ang pagpasok ng documentary film clips sa pagitan ng mga eksenang dramatiko. Itinuloy ito ni Joel Lamangan sa ilang pelikula tulad ng Flor Contemplacion. Mas pinong bersyon ang matatagpuan sa
Dekada ’70 – binuksan at isinara ang naratibo sa taas-kamao at multi-sektoral na kilos-protesta ngunit hindi nagpatali sa preskribtibong pormula ng mapagpalayang kilusan.

Suma total ang isang pelikulang bakubako tulad ng mga lansangan sa kanayunan, humahampas tulad ng mga alon sa batuhan, humuhugong tulad ng hangin kapag may sigwa.

Humulagpos ang pelikula sa anyo at nilalaman, tulad ng paghulagpos ni Amanda sa mapaniil na lipunang patriarkal.

Pagtugon sa gusto ng takilya

Gayumpaman, hindi nagbulag-bulagan ang mga lumikha ng pelikula sa kahingian ng industriya.

Nariyan ang mabentang tambalan nina Christopher de Leon at Vilma Santos. Binigyan ng sapat na espasyo ang matinee idols na gumanap bilang mga anak ng mag-asawang Bartolome. Kalakip din ang masisidhing eksena ng personal na tunggalian upang magpaluha, magpasaya, magpagunita at magpamulat kung kailangan.

Maliban sa paggamit ng mga elementong panghatak sa manonood-na talamak sa industriya ng pelikulang Pilipino ngayon-sinubukan din ng pelikulang gamitin ang mga elementong ito upang makapagbukas ng mga bintana sa kamalayan ng madlang manonood.

Sintesis ng salimbayan

Ilang ulit nang inokupa ng iba’t ibang uri ng lipunan ang EDSA bilang tarangkahan ng kapangyarihan ngunit hindi minsan man naglingon-likod sa mahabang panahon ng pakikibaka mula huling hati ng dekada sisenta hanggang unang hati ng dekada otsenta.

Sa halip, laging ibinabaon sa limot ang panahong iyon ng pagpupunyagi upang maipundar ang isang kilusang mapagpalayang nakaugat sa Rebolusyong 1896 at nagtataguyod sa mga mithiin ng higit na nakararaming Pilipino.

Kamakailan, inamin ng isang mataas na opisyal ng US ang pakikialam ng kanyang bansa sa EDSA 1986. Isang bagay na agad itinatwa ng ilan sa mga tagapagtaguyod ng naturang rebelyon. Isang bagay namang ikinatuwa ng anak ng dating Pangulong Marcos dahil lumabas din daw sa wakas ang katotohanan na ang Rebelyong 1986 dinesenyo ng Amerika. Samakatwid, hindi ito maituturing na lehitimong rebolusyon kundi isang kudeta.

Hanggat patuloy na inililibing sa puntod ng kasaysayan ang panahong ito, patuloy na magmumulto ang mga Pilipinong itinimbuwang ng karahasan sa gitna ng pambansang pakikibaka laban sa diktadura.

Ito ang halaga ng pelikulang Dekada ’70 na hindi kayang igpawan ng mga kaalinsabay nito-pagbalik-tanaw sa panahong nagluwal sa mga bayaning walang pangalan tungo sa paglaya ng bayan. Habang nagsasawalang kibo ang maraming Pilipino sa tunay na kabuluhan ng
panahong ito, patuloy na gagamitin ng iba’t ibang pwersa ang kilusang naipundar ng luha at dugo ng mga Pilipinong nagmahal sa sariling bayan. Isang testimonya ang pelikula sa kamalayang hindi magagapi at patuloy na magsasatinig sa katotohanan.

Mahalaga ring bigyang-pansin na isinagawa ang balik-tanaw sa kamalayan ni Amanda at sa pagkilos ng kanyang mga kamay na nag-ugoy ng duyan. Sa madaling salita, muling sinipat ang kasaysayan sa pananaw ng babae. Ngunit sa halip na baligtarin ang katotohanan upang mangibabaw ang kababaihan-tulad ng madalas gawin ng radikal na
feminismo-itinuring ni Amanda ang asawa bilang kahati, karugtong ng buhay, kaisang-dibdib.

Sa multi-sektoral na pakikibaka, kapit-kamay ang lalaki at babae gayundin ang iba’t ibang uri ng lipunan upang isakatuparan ang rekompigurasyon ng lipunang Pilipino. Ito ang resolusyon ng kontradiksyon. Ito rin ang siyang tutunguhin ng Pilipinas sa mga
darating na panahon.

 
 

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Paghuhunos ng Melodrama sa ‘Inang Yaya’

Galileo Zafra

Nakabigkis sa isang ironiya ang pangunahing tunggalian ng pelikulang Inang Yaya. Kailangang arugain ni Norma (Maricel Soriano) ang anak ng iba para buhayin at itaguyod ang sariling anak, at dahil dito, nawalay at halos mapabayaan naman ang tunay na supling. Sa huli, kakailanganin niyang mamili bilang Yaya at bilang Ina sa dalawang batang kaniyang kinalinga, at nasa paglalahad ng dramatikong tensiyon at paggalugad sa mga konteksto ng bubuuing pasiya ang kabuluhan ng pelikula.

“Inang Yaya” na maituturing si Norma kay Louise, anak ng kareristang magasawa na ginampanan nina Sunshine Cruz at Zoren Legaspi. Abala ang magasawa sa trabaho at sa ibang obligasyon, kaya halos ang yaya ang tumayong ina kay Louise. Lumaki man sa layaw ang bata, makikitang mahal na mahal niya ang kaniyang yaya. Ngunit ang pagmumulan ng salimuot ng naratibo –may anak si Norma, si Ruby, na nasa probinsiya, inaalagaan ng kaniyang lola (Marita Zobel), at nangungulila sa kalinga ng ina.

inang-yaya

Iigiting ang takbo ng kuweto sa pagpanaw ng ina ni Norma. Bunga nito, mapipilitan ang siyang bitbitin ang kaniyang anak pa-Maynila, at itira sa pinagtatrabahuhang pamilya. Bagaman kapiling na niya ang sariling anak, hindi pa rin magiging madali para kay Norma ang bagong sitwasyon. Bukod sa pagtupad sa mga responsabilidad sa pamilyang pinaglilingkuran, kailangan niyang hatiin ang sarili sa dalawang batang nag-aagawan sa kaniyang atensiyon. Masasaksihan din niya ang hirap ng paninimbang ni Ruby kasama ng kaniyang alagang pinalaki sa luho at layaw ng mga magulang.

Pinatitingkad ang pelikula ng mga katangian ng melodrama na makikita sa ilang ipinamalas nitong kumbensiyon. Pangunahin samga katangiang ito ang pagtatampok sa katauhan ni Norma na tigib ng hirap at pighati sa araw-araw na pakikipagsapalaran sa pagtupad sa mga tungkuling iniatang ng lipunan sa babae. Bilang ina, kailangan niyang tiisin ang pangungulila sa sariling anak habang kinakalinga ang anak ng kaniyang amo. Bilang yaya, kailangan naman niyang hatiin ang hapong katawan sa samot-saring gawain ng pagiging katulong sa bahay at tagapag-alaga ng bata, at balikatin ang iba pang domestikong pasanin ng pinagsisilbihang pamilya.

Ngunit binibigo rin ng ang karaniwang ekspektasyon sa isang pelikulang melodrama. Isa na, maingat na binuo ang karakter ng mga tauhan kaya naman kumikilos sila hindi ayon sa paghuwad sa mga gasgas na karakterisasyon kundi ayon sa maingat at talinong paghimay sa iba’t ibang tensiyong kinakaharap ng mga tauhan. Ang Lola (Liza Lorena) ni Louise na sa simula’y mapangutya’t inaasahang maging dagdag na pasanin kay Norma
ay siya pang makatutuklas sa kalinisan ng budhi ng anak ng Yaya; ang dalawang batang tauhan, na mahusay at matalinong nagampanan ng mga batang aktres, ay nailarawang may kakayahang umarok atumunawa, mag-isip at dumama, magpasiya at kumilos tungkol sa iba’t ibang hamon ng kanilang mga munting mundo, pati ng samot-saring komplikasyon ng mas malawak na realidad ngmga taong nakapaligid sa kanila.

Sa pagsapit ng kasukdulan ng naratibo, may magandang oportunidad na naghihintay sa pinasisilbihang mag-asawa sa ibang bansa, at iaalok din nila kay Norma ang pagkakataon para kumita nang mas malaki sa pangingibangbayan kasama nila. Ngunit mangangahulugan ito ng muling pagkawalay ng ina sa kaniyang anak. Kung maghahandog lamang ng idealistang pagtatapos ang ay madaling hulaan ang mga posibilidad para wakasan ang pelikula. Sasama si Norma, o isasama rin niya ang kaniyang anak sa pangingibang-bansa. Ngunit taliwas sa inaasahang masayang wakas ng anyong melodrama, yayakagin ng pelikula ang manonood sa pagninilay ni Norma, at sa bandang huli, sa paglilimi sa konteksto kung bakit magpapasiya si Norma na manatili sa sariling bayan, sa piling ng kaniyang anak.

Sa pagtatampok sa proseso ng pagpapasiya ni Norma, naipamamalas kung paanong ang melodrama ay nagagamit sa paglalarawan ng damdamin, ligalig,at iba pang aspektong personal, at kung paanong sa pagsasadula ng mga dinaranas na mga agam-agam at pighati ay mapatingkad ang pakikibaka ng mga tauhan samga institusyon at estrukturang panlipunan.

Hindi lamang ang paluhain ang manonood ang pakay ng pelikulang kung gayon. Nagpapahiwatig din ito ng bagong kabatiran tungkol sa pagkatao at lipunan, at ng posibilidad sa paghuhunos ng anyo ng melodrama ng sineng Filipino.

 
 

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Tactile/Tactical: Critique of ‘Masahista’

J. Pilapil Jacobo

Surveying the settings of local cinema’s sex films, we can say our audiences have quite traversed many a zone: street corners, public parks, fishing villages, and all that lush vegetation. But since no meat could ever matter in the sole depiction of current perversions, exhibiting the said areas only furthered myths about the sin city, as well as the sad tropics. Before we can say that a filmic locale is legitimate, the space must fully flesh out a context, one that marks out the passage of identities, they who are unsettled, or are simply stranded—lost and struggling for another, if not a better, place. And even if a film’s aim is to simply uncover a site of struggle by showing bodies stripped of their human dignity, the divestments must not only lay bare the devices that coerce subjects to accept the wearing down of their whole and parts and discard the possibility of redress by holding on to their pedestrian habits. The cinema of such variety that strives to be truly interventive must avoid the mere spectacle of a striptease by envisioning a spectrum of embodiment beyond the nude and the naked. After displays of the burlesque, a film is also hoped to reveal new designs of refashioning disfigured, because disproportionate, social anatomies.

Thankfully, Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista has its context, one that maps out what we can call a “tropical traffic.” Shuttling between the metropolises of Angeles and Manila, the film locates the transactions of the flesh not just on the level of anonymous bodies but on the plane of familiar subjects—familiar, as the encounters plot out the prosaic itineraries of corporeal selves negotiating affects which are by turns sensible, sensational, and of course, sensory. Familiarity is a condition the film aspires for so that what can only come to the fore is a vision of the “concrete,” revealing the various “social thicknesses” deep down a seemingly dichotomic (country-city) surface. Once a city that catered its “women of excess” to American military officers, Angeles in the film now provides the “surplus” of male sex work to a capital region whose homosexual herd seems to need tending from an ever-willing pack of virile virgins.

The American moment in Angeles is a significant incident in understanding the contemporary history of sexuality that the city has come to represent. Anecdotes tell us that as a “contact zone,” Angeles has allowed a “cultural coitus” that only allegorizes this country’s miscegenational tendencies (or are they techniques?) with foreign sojourners, the colonial paramour most especially. The fruit of the said dalliance is most evident in the birth of an Amerasian generation, the “G.I. babies” of yesterday’s lonesome songs. But the fair fathers of these love children had no choice but to abandon them and their mothers, local economy’s “service women,” turning them into cashless casualties of a war they once wished would last beyond their years. Against their will but with the movies in their mind still reeling, these women coaxed their swearing sons to carry on the “heritage.” After all, these men, demigods boasting of hybrid physiognomies, could only be ripenesses ready for the picking. We are not saying that the masseur (Coco Martin) in the film is of the said lineage, nor we are suggesting that the mother (Jaclyn Jose) is a retiree from civilization’s oldest trade. Such readings would only defeat our efforts to contextualize the filmic locale. What we are trying to point out here is that the choice of the milieu makes the film tread a path paved with the stuff that constructs history. Nevertheless, Jaclyn Jose as the masseur’s mother is a point to consider. In her youth, Jose archetypicalized the prostitute in films like Macho Dancer and Olongapo: The Great American Dream. The irony of this detail only thickens the texture of Masahista’s historicizing.

masahista

Manila completes the erotopolitics of a post-American Angeles by providing the new “base” from which the “trafficking”of flesh is negotiated. Instructive in this discursive field is the notion of “excess,” as it names the diasporic movement of male sex work from the country to the city in legionary terms, ascribing to the flight a force best expressed in the idiom of “swarm,” “horde,” and yes, “stampede.” In the metropole, the excess of male bodies need not threaten the “balance of trade.” If we consider the clientele, who in desiring only produces a surplus of longings, the omnipresence of male sex work will no longer astound us, for we finally come to understand why there is a “mass production” of male sex work in the city—because the “service men” perceive the setting as one overflowing with the capital that would free them from a condition of economic scarcity.
Masahista particularizes the male sex worker that services the metropolitan context by singling out an expert—the masseur. The choice to identify the said type answers our question of why the film dwells in the familiar: to make more palpable (but not necessarily palatable) our reckoning with urban estrangement, social immobility, and albeit elaborately, spiritual retreat.

How does the alienation take place? With the massage as both the medium and the message of the “service,” maleness becomes an indefinite undertaking for our expert; if his performance falls short of the expected display of prowess, then musculature need not be a primary criterion in purchasing the goods of masculinity. If the pleasure of the visual matches that of the performative, only then can man preserve his mythic wholeness. But how can one reconcile a view with a gesture? How does a quiver (or its absence) fail a gaze? Such a struggle “the boys” must contend with even after they have been chosen as “finalists.” In the bedroom, there is the real pageant. Nonetheless, probing the grotesque male body does not necessarily valorize the bearer of the gaze. The rather typical depiction is necessary to critique, not the gay, but the consumptive machinations of a libidinal economy in which the gay participates.

Brillante Mendoza’s critique departs however from the imaginings of Lino Brocka (in Tubog sa Ginto and Macho Dancer) and Mel Chionglo (in Sibak and Burlesk King), who have worked through the question of male sex work under the social realist paradigm. A film leaning towards the latter will have to dramatize a range of social forces which restrain and finally disable the individual to rise out of the condition of (what else but) poverty. With or without the dream of the “good life,” Macho and Sibak portray the male sex worker as someone left without any choice but to sell his body. The pathos that this premise conjures is obtuse, for it rests on a false humanism: the bourgeois lamenting the perils of the lumpen throng, as if the former has not contributed to the latter’s dispossession. Such philanthropic guises are not found in Masahista, whose society works out its poignant tragedies in the humble energies of the everyday, and not through the grand forces of messianic history. The film’s settings are open milieus whose unruly arrangements tangentially capture political terrains, and not cordoned locations whose insularity exaggerates, by way of allegory, the (un)likelihood of politicized and politicizing landscapes. Residing in these locales are locals inhibited by the imbalance in the social ecology and not just non-initiates stripped of their virtues in a morality play. Portrayed is human interaction; conflict only arises because of the clash of desires and interests, and not just because of individual mores and manners sticking out of the social fabric.

In other words, Masahista is significant because it evinces the ethnographic, a mode that most aptly configures a context, breaking down familiar experience into the perceptive and the perceptible—those details, patterns, and motions of “local knowledge.” The critique that such a framework yields goes beyond the defiles of exposé (as in tabloidal television) and the shame of exposure (as in circulated private telephonic video), but remains within the bounds of the cinematic exposition, or the visual essay.

But the film chooses to emphasize certain disruptions in its ethnography by juxtaposing the trades of the flesh with the rituals of bereavement, a feat achieved through a tour de force parallel editing. This technique infuses the masseur with a certain sentience, enabling him to confront the limits to prowess, the insistence of finitude, and the redemption in filiality. But how does the film build up these thematic possibilities? This is where criticism functions as a rhetoricization of the filmic anthropology.

As the hotbed of desires in the cold Third World night, the massage parlor allows one to weather the heart—well, for a dear price. But while the quasi-panoptic cinematography explores the scenario to its minutiae, granting the audience almost total access to the dark skin and its darker schemes, the production design dares to evoke synaesthesia, making the visual and the tactile copulate. Masahista lets our eyes come into contact with the various senses of touch, from the habits of the busy flesh to the rites rendered to one’s wretched remains. This is where art moves us, in spite of a genre’s bare necessities. And this is also where Mendoza tries to remind us that while labor is alienated (forced by the customer into sodomy, the masseur doesn’t get his expected fees), the reification is not total, for the masseur’s work is, despite his sex, affective.

We are told that in a massage, one lets another’s hands touch one’s body, and allows the forager full entry to that landscape. But with the transaction involved, the erotic remains the customer’s fantasy. The tactile one, we are told, is a master of tactics. He may be numb to the nakedness before him, but with each stroke, he knows he can close the deal and get more out of it. So Iliac, the masseur, touches the customer’s core by weaving a pathetic life story, which varies from one night to another, depending on the moment’s need. But the film tells us that the masseur’s narrative, even with altered references, is a self-allegory, a confession even. Well, almost, for the sinner leaves out the gravest offense. On the night of his service, Iliac finds out that his estranged father has already passed away, but the former only ignores the news, letting his romance novelist customer (Allan Paule) finish his parable. However, at the height of abandon, Iliac is haunted by his own abandonment. Before a phantom of death, that is where the fictive, however tangible, renders itself futile. The film owes these levels of abstraction to a screenplay whose ambiguity is made brusque by an attentive sound recording, allowing Puigesque chatter to commingle with Pinterian silences.

Hence, the spectator is no longer a voyeur but a fellow sufferer. Brillante Mendoza sees to it that the sensual detail will not lead to an alienation from the image, but a filiation to it. So when Iliac is made to dress his father’s corpse up, the latter’s touch is already charged with irony. Here is a character left without any choice but to confront what the event, absurd as it may seem, can intimate about mortality. What does the masseur do with the cadaver that he detests but needs to reclaim by means of a dignified apparel, while remembering how he surrenders his own manhood, or what is left of it, each time he undresses for the survival of his kin? What touch can he offer when the warmth of his hands has already been taken by a stranger’s body?

The vulnerability presented by the masseur’s encounter with death is made more palpable by a motif of ruin (or the neglect that causes it) running through the film’s lyrical images: a bicycle’s mishap with a karitela in a street of broken earthen pottery; demolished buildings which surround the hospital where the dead father is lain; the widow’s rough face; and a customer whose skin sags with every breath he catches just to enjoy the night’s lease.

So why resolve the metaphysical dilemma in terms of the melodramatic? At one glance, the scene where Iliac discovers the shoe sizes that his father kept is not in keeping with film’s rhythm. The said revelation simply disrupts the contemplative pace the film has maintained because of the director’s keen handling of the tropes of tactility. At that point, the narrative evaporates, condensing emotion only through Iliac’s tears. But the flatness of the rendition salvages the rest of the film from sheer campiness on the hand and ultra-poeticism on the other. It is in this tempo bereft of any affected cadence that one finally feels through it all; and melancholia descends, sinks in, stays. Then we realize that isn’t just a plot that can unravel, but also viscerae.

Speaking of the visceral, one performer almost vomits her gut out to claim it. Katherine Luna, whose concept of body acting is limited to a grimace, coupled with the most irritating shriek, can only arouse pity. We understand that her character is supposed to state an oxymoron: a sex-starved prostitute who happens to be the gilfriend of an overperforming masseur. But what the hell happened with the contradiction? Where has all the control in Babae sa Breakwater gone? Out to sea?

If there was any advantage Paule had as an actor in the film, it would have been hindsight. Unfortunately, Paule could not recall the 80’s, when he immortalized the role of the male sex worker. Instead of drawing from his Macho Dancer experience, Paule turned to his Sa Paraiso ni Efren role and repeated the Maryo J. de los Reyes motivation—sissiness as homosexuality! Had he looked farther, he would have understood why Mendoza chose him for the role—to complete the path he has traversed as an actor in the genre by playing the part of the client and providing an ironic twist to its typicality. Paule should stop accepting gay roles from this day on. His reading of the customer is just customary.

Jaclyn Jose carries a body that tacitly wishes to disappear. In the film, she is the untouchable, and she knows it.

Coco Martin, who switches from innocence to cunning to regret with conspicuous effort but with notable charm nonetheless, plays the eponymous character with utter vitality. Well, Martin is rather limited by his face, whose gentle features resist corruption, or a prospect of it. Stunted puberty also thwarts the erotics of his body, but the psychological restlessness Martin invests into the role glows, enabling him to release a persistent sexuality. At some point, we are convinced Martin is rather unsexed, and therefore, miscast as the masseur, but the hunger is there—an authentic one that makes him a “savage aesthete.” This understanding of emptiness must be the reason why Martin knows where to touch and when to go before he is singed by his own advances. In the end, tactility must be coupled with a movement, after the moorage. Martin’s seduction is by turns sly and timid, one that draws very near only to escape.

In the 16 years of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle, Masahista makes history by being the only film ever to be awarded in all categories. A total achievement most clear in the vivid urgencies of editing, sound, cinematography, and production design; in the calm eloquence of the screenplay; and in the thoughtful performances of Jaclyn Jose and Coco Martin. But above all these competencies is director Brillante Mendoza, who might just be the auteur Philippine Cinema has been looking for all these years. In this debut film, he is not just an assured visionary, but also a scrupulous worker, with hands so “full of grace,” that in the end, we say that a “sexual healing” can happen in and through film; and when it does, it seeks what lies beneath duct and pore, cutting through muscle and bone, to find what could be a harrowed soul, and salve it with love’s touch, caress, embrace.

(This essay appeared in Young Critics Circle Film Desk’s “Sine-Sipat: Recasting Roles and Images-Stars, Awards and Criticism for 2005,” March 2006.)

 
 

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