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The 29th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2018

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The Young Critics Circle Film Desk held its 29th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2018 on 16 August 2019 (Friday), 3:00 PM at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Dr. Joseph Pális, assistant professor at the Department of Geography of the University of the Philippines Diliman, is the keynote speaker. Dr. Pális is also an affiliate faculty in the Center for International Studies in the same university.

The 29th Annual Circle Citations catalog is available for download here.

The event was supported by the University of the Philippines-Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts.

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Posted by on 17 August 2019 in 2018 Citations

 

A Longer Story of Impunity: A review of A Short History of a Few Bad Things (Keith Deligero, 2018)

Lisa Ito

Keith Deligero’s A Short History of a Few Bad Things (2018), which premiered as part of the Cinema One Originals festival last year, offers several moments that distinguish it from the concurrent line-up of other local murder-mystery thrillers.

The first scenes are enigmatic enough, offering moments that don’t readily align: an underwater scene submerged with whale sharks; a local pawnshop owner is shot in broad daylight, execution-style with a single bullet to the head, at a busy crossing in Cebu City; found, grainy footage of huts burned down during the night, in the year 1998.

The senior investigator tasked to trace the identity of the assassin, an ex-soldier named Felix Tarongoy (Victor Neri), soon finds himself chasing leads that do not also add up, eliding easy answers. Accompanied by rookie colleague Jay Mendoza (Jay Gonzaga) and hounded by the weathered and often exasperated city Chief of Police Ouano (Publio Briones III), Tarongoy finds himself continually outsmarted along the way as witnesses and suspects to the crime are killed in succession. Inexplicably drawn to the widowed Gemma/Maria Calag (Maricel Sombrio) and her farmboy companion Ivan Calag (Kent Divinagracia), Tarongoy defies direct orders and follows a trail that leads back to an exposé and the most unlikely and ironic of encounters.

BAD THINGS - STILLS 01(Still photo courtesy of Gale Osorio)

The terse ties that bind each killing to an incident two decades back are revealed here in due time. The film fascinates in its subdued storytelling, cinematography, and haunting soundtracks and music scores that seamlessly connect points in history. Unanswered queries and ominous signs are left for the viewer to complete and decode, while scenes of the chase and its characters foreshadow a longer history of violence that eventually catches up with those who think they have moved on and away.

Among the cast, Neri’s melancholic and Sombrio’s woeful dispositions complement each other well. There is little in terms of overtly theatrical gestures between the two; instead, close up shots during moments of silence best draw out the psychological tension brewing beneath. Conversely, the motley, veering teasingly close to slapstick, mix of Tarongoy’s colleagues and the trio of implicated characters Arturo Binaohan (Reynaldo Santos), Trifon Abueg (Arnel Mardoquio) and Hector (Felicisimo Alingasan) surfaces a sociological taxonomy: conveying in their mimickry of individuals representing the police, the underworld, and charismatic cults a glimpse of the other shadier ties and institutions that bind Philippine society. The screenplay (Paul Grant) which incorporates dialogue in Cebuano, Tagalog, and English is also noteworthy in its exploration of vernaculars.

The strength of the narrative, however, best lies in its ingenious turn towards self-referentiality as it reaches a conclusion. The search for answers boomerangs back to Tarongoy not in the streets of Cebu but in the secluded forests of Masbate island, where he finds himself the subject of scrutiny as he, again, witnesses a moment of final, fiery reckoning. This last stop in the search closes the circle of investigation, while leaving enough gaps for the viewer to fill in any loose ends. One enters a film within a film: and one story begins where the other one ends.

BAD THINGS - STILLS 05(Still photo courtesy of Gale Osorio)

This easy-going sense of referentiality is where A Short History of a Few Bad Things (2018) succeeds in resonating with the larger occurrences and longer histories of impunity beyond the work itself. Certainly, the fascination and engagement of Philippine cinema with extra-judicial killing (EJK) narratives is unfortunately still going strong ever since 2016, when the death toll from the drug war under Pres. Duterte started to escalate and was documented through the works of photojournalists, filmmakers, and visual artists.  The technologies of visual culture appearing as objects and narrative devices within the film’s storyline —the camera, the phone, and the television in particular —also reference their utility as modes of documentation, evidence, and reenactment.

BAD THINGS - STILLS 07(Still photo courtesy of Gale Osorio)

Various intertexts can be read between these and many other local filmic responses to the deaths incurred during the course of both the government’s drug war and counter-insurgency drives. The brutal anti-illegal drug and anti-insurgency campaigns, for instance, have started to intersect in real life through recent developments, such as the issuance of Memorandum Order No. 32 on November 22, 2018 putting the regions of Bicol, Samar, and Negros under heightened army and police presence due to “states of lawlessness”, all leading to a sudden escalation of massacres (especially of peasants), EJKs, political killings, and incidents similar to those portrayed and foreshadowed in the film. That the characters, including Tarongoy, are all eventually implicated in histories of military-instigated incidents ties the narrative closer to contemporary politics.

The real world violence referenced in A Short History of a Few Bad Things, interestingly, underscores such penetration and expansion of impunity out of Manila as a capital to the regions themselves, often hiding in plain sight. The film certainly highlights the tropicality and locality of its setting, further siting this through both language and geography in its shift from urban Cebu to rural Masbate. Connected by water as well as shared histories of trauma as embodied in the tragic figures of Tarongoy and company, these sites of investigation attest to the real atrocity: how state violence is not only national in scope, but also personal, local, and archipelagic in its reach as well.

What kind of redemption is implied in the end? Vigilante vengeance, or justice, whether of the protracted or ironic kind? A sense of ambiguity lingers in the particular trajectory that this proposes. Certainly, killers outside the filmic realm roam still freely up to now. But the film issues an ample warning to all those concerned: the bells will toll not only for those you felled, but also for thee.

 
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Posted by on 16 August 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Strumming the Void: Notes on Dwein Ruedas Baltazar’s Oda sa Wala (2018)

Christian Tablazon

At its heart, the title Oda sa Wala already announces a perverse, desiring subject enfolded in a long and fraught enactment of apostrophe. The film opens with what is probably one of the most arresting and thoughtful first scenes in recent cinema: a lingering take of winged insects drawn in a graceful flurry to the ceiling light while an old, melancholic Chinese song (what initially seems a non-diegetic tune) plays in the background. The shot is later revealed to be Sonya’s POV, a woman in her 40s lying wide awake and alone in bed, immersed in the same song that turns out to be playing through her earphones from a Walkman. The door creaks and a disembodied hand slips into the crack to switch off the light in the room. Sonya waits for a while in the dark before getting up to turn the ceiling lamp back on. She returns to bed and resumes listening to the song, but the player gets jammed right away. She opens her Walkman and finds the tape spilled out of its cassette. The drone of bugs outside accompanies the silence in the house. The seeming ghost, we will later realize, is Sonya’s father, just lodged wordlessly in the next room.

The father has been turned into a phantom sign, reduced into a fragment without context, an incomplete figure without speech, absent and present at once in the same house with her. Sonya is alone with and in spite of him, throughout the solitary passage of night, just as long as the nights that came before. Besides her winged and incidental companions, she is also kept company by a conjured voice that is only as spectral, that of a foreign woman, now probably dead, singing in another language, recorded from a different place and time, a facsimile of a human voice crooning from an obsolete cassette tape, a serenade long gone returning from the other side, mechanically invoked through a handheld apparatus. It is also a disembodied voice, whose words Sonya protractedly hums and mouths in this moment of strange communion with insects and ghosts.

vlcsnap-2019-08-16-10h30m48s656(Screengrab from Oda sa Wala‘s trailer)

The numinous beauty in this commonplace and transient moment that she witnesses amid her desolation, the music drifting from a distant time and place into an almost ethereal sight of these fascinating alate forms—the winged iteration of their kind—these ephemeral lives, and their mysterious attraction to light for which even science still could not fully account…. With this opening scene, the silent and ambiguous gaps and gestures that protract the visible, Sonya’s conscious reality, and the film’s narrative, not only build a decisive atmosphere within which to unfold this strange and excruciating meditation on loneliness and acquaint us with the lyric and oblique tendencies of Baltazar’s evocations, but also situates the cardinal motifs of haunting and return, strange unsuspected visits, artifact and disintegration, darkness and light, disembodiment and embodiment and surrogate incarnations, and the fleeting little joys and glimpses of numen that seep through the cracks of ennui and terror. 

Caught between dead mothers and men who consistently fail her, she feels invisible and unwanted, a subject on the verge of being neutered and extinct at once: Sonya, a soltera and no longer young, lone and all-around mortician at her family-owned funeral home of over 50 years, struggling to keep at bay the drawing impoundment of their property by a ruthless loan shark who is perennially sapping their resources. She is trapped with her languishing father in the soulless, day-to-day humdrum in their large, decrepit house, and their lives are almost determined by the castrating loss of the wife and mother in the wake of her passing. A gloomy, womblike and pluvial atmosphere looms and persists about the house. The dead clock, the phased out media, the sheer gesture of playing same old song, on loop, over and over sums up limboid inhabitation suspended in time. The radio that, despite Sonya’s repeated attempts, could not process any signal, amplifies the insularity of their lives in their silent and cavernous home. Marietta Subong’s deft and visceral portrayal of Sonya steadily unravels a brutal and incommensurable solitude, and renders, with utmost empathy and dignity, how the perverse can sometimes shed light on our humanity, how the perverse itself is the mark of humanity, the individual human sign she carries.

vlcsnap-2019-08-16-10h30m27s261(Screengrab from Oda sa Wala‘s trailer)

Several times in the film, Sonya would be listening to the same song in the beginning, a quaint and bittersweet 1950s rendition of “Jasmine Flower”, a Chinese folk song, which actually bookends the film. Possibly, for Sonya, it is a tender remnant from happier days, a reminder perhaps of a Chinese-Filipino mother or from when she was younger and alive, or an intimate souvenir between her parents conceived when they were young passionate lovers, a hand-me-down tune she plays over and over, frequently spoiled by the stubborn cassette tape getting stuck and tangled, a flimsy bequest now literally unravelling into unusability. The lush invocations of this song starkly contrasts with the cauterized dimension of Sonya’s life, and most so when she hums and mouths her slurred version of the Mandarin lines while caught in her reverie, her eyes cast distantly upon the emptiness before her.

Amid the Orientalia of conflated Chinese and Japanese ornaments in her study, we see an old, yellowed poster advertisement that says, “See CHINA by PLANE”. The slogan compounds the song’s signification as an impossible place, an ever-elsewhere for which the protagonist longs. The narrative thus positions the song as the last bastion of her sensual habitude, alongside the few other little retreats she affords herself that sustain her person: the shabby piano the loan shark takes away, her mother’s photograph, the prospect of being able to one day travel to China as hinted by the poster, smoking cigarettes, buying her own birthday cake and the blissful dancing that ensues over lunch, and, of course, her brief encounters with Elmer, the young taho vendor whom she fancies and anticipates every morning. 

Sonya’s retreat from her seemingly embalmed state takes a more aggressive turn in the form of a mysterious corpse, a woman most likely around the same age as her dead mother, that finds its way into their home one very late evening. The corpse  in itself is ambiguous in its being n/either subject n/or object, an uncanny figure that blurs the distinction between self and other, setting up a rigodon of ghostly functions: as itself, as a set of analogs, as surrogate, as Sonya’s alter ego, and as a portent to her fate. 

The dead turns out auspicious, and Sonya eventually decides restitute her mother through the surrogate corpse, fecundating their household and the relationship between daughter and father. In one particular bedtime scene, the Chinese song she obsessively listens to in various instances in the film presently functions as the interface and buffer between two simulations by Sonya: the memory of her dead mother and its embodiment in the surrogate corpse of this unknown woman.

vlcsnap-2019-08-16-10h31m32s681(Screengrab from Oda sa Wala‘s trailer)

The premise of Oda sa Wala easily conjures a similar trope in García Márquez: the arrival of a strange and exquisite corpse—The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World—in the lives of the inhabitants of a small coastal village forever alters the people and brings forth an unprecedented Spring and flowering that their village could never have otherwise imagined. However, while the corpse in Oda sa Wala catalyzes a chain of auspicious and bizaare events that will eventually fulfill Sonya’s fate, one realizes that the role the mysterious dead woman plays here is a brief distraction, a reprieve, allowing Sonya and her father a momentary relese from the limboid tautology of their day-to-day existence, before the Void fully encroaches upon them and the corpse finally reveals itself to be the Void, before the world swiftly and compeletely falls away to evince a new order. “One curious property of the cuttlefish is that, once dead, its body begins to glow,” Srikanth Reddy writes in one of his poems. “This mild phosphorescence reaches its greatest intensity a few days after death, then ebbs away as the body decays. You can read by this light.” The last sentence completes the full circle that pertains to a psalm being unfolded in the poem, the psalm that is itself the very poem we are consuming in the ebbing light of a carcass. This “mild phosphorescence”, this seeming miracle of luminosity, that momentary grace in spite of and resulting from the process of physical corruption, is a most fitting analogy to the workings of the perverse in Oda sa Wala and Sonya’s relationship with the Void.

Apart from the recurring Chinese song, “Jasmine Flower”, the motif of efflorescence also finds multiple iterations in the tiny details throughout the film: flowers for the dead, Sonya’s floral pillows and sheets, the spring flowers painted on her bedhead and the framed image of a flower hanging above it, the floral pattern on a wall clock, and her floral-printed blouse when Sonya has decided to doll up for Elmer, the young man she likes, her first and only clothing that bears noticeable color and design within a series of drab and printless clothes she wears in the film. This floral motif persists in the narrative, and Baltazar potently deploys the trope of nuptial spring against the soltera’s abject and barren connotations, mining the poignant and morbid irony of such juxtaposition.  “Before you got here, I thought… maybe it would be better if I just disappeared,” Sonya tells the auspicious corpse she has just done up, and whom she addresses as her deceased mother, pretending that the latter has finally returned to somehow deliver Sonya from the curse of her solitude. Dressed in newly bought clothes and crowned with a wreath of flowers, the dead woman transforms into Sonya’s spring goddess and her very own Flower Girl. In the traditional symbolism of the wedding procession, the flower girl leads the bride forward, from childhood to adulthood and from innocence to her roles as both wife and mother. 

The realm of social reason and cultural order are sustained and plotted by the rhythm of habits and negotiations in the story: the consumption of media; the business of minding the dead; service rates and other regulations of value; keeping time: her age, her birthday, the closing hours at work, meals, mornings waiting for Elmer, and the loan shark scheduled visits; the fuss over private property and title; the obligation of paying the debt; the old grand piano being sequestered as a partial mode of payment, and the assigned value of things, commodities and mementos alike; paying the jeepney fare; the pressure of relationships and civil status; familial relations; or the admissible truth of photographs.

The void is neither sheer absence nor wretched abstraction; its nothingness possesses a ruthless and irrevocable materiality that alters and impinges upon this world of bodies, in the same acoustic logic that the hollow against which the strings are stretched amplifies the trill, and hence a song, however sad or frightening. Sonya strums the Void into emerging its voice, the voice of the Other, and to which she would ardently answer, devoting herself fervidly to fill the emptiness, in the process becoming the very plug in the hole of the Other. In her encounter with the frightening Void, she willfully turns into the transitive object that completes this Otherness: the subject herself stopples Nothing precisely by inhabiting it.

The dark womb slowly retracts the world, engulfs it. Her absence has taken over father and daughter, a palpable void that encroaches upon the house and gradually frays the waking lives of its occupants. Sonya permits her return as a different corpse, and the dead, just like absence, is never passive. Her body discolors and distends. She decays and the foul smell pervades the house. Her absence-presence alters place and the relations and bodies within it, the Void taking on a material shape through the very characters it subsumes, the same figures that carry it out in turn. The otherness that is Nothing encroaches upon Sonya’s daily existence and gradually frays social reason, until she finally turns herself into the object for the jouissance of this Other—a gradual descent, or transmutation, that the film patiently charts with keen and excruciating sensitivity, along with the sounds of inarticulable terrors and longings. 

The photograph as document loses its indexical power as the woman’s corpse has come to nullify and supersede it as the more palpable icon of the dead mother. The corpse exceeds the business deal when it stops being just what it is, its keeper Sonya refusing attempts to claim the body, as the dead woman has now been espoused into their household. The flowers are mere simulacra and the real ones have ceased being plants and become no more than retailed commodities. A bag of cash becomes a bag of newspaper scraps. The old wall clock looms dead, the cassette tape unravels, and the wheezing radio goes mute, and crackles. The sputtering engine of the funeral hearse fails and the two passengers are stuck on the side of the road stretching along the looming forest. Sonya witnesses the very embodied apparition of the old woman, alive and apotheosized into a naked earth god, an ancient figure subsuming the intertwined deifications of nature, fertility, creation, and destruction. It is night all of a sudden, and Sonya, under the full moon, follows her mother into the depths of the forest. She plods through the wilderness, to the sonorous, celestial aria of a woman’s voice, toward her own clearing, her own banwa, to go phantom into the ever elsewhere that will finally fulfill her. When both women, now deep in the woods, finally inhabit the same frame, the dreamy and melancholic trill of notes shared by both the music in the final scene and the flourish of strings in the old Chinese song merge as well into the same stream, right before the moment cuts to black and closing credits. Ablution or dead end, primal regression or death, transcendence or madness, rebirth or extinction. In the end, in the last gesture of an open-ended reprieve, she may well believe, and insist, that the void has sung back after all.

 
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Posted by on 16 August 2019 in Uncategorized

 

Woman, Mother, Trans: A Critique of Mamu; and a Mother Too (2018)

Jaya Jacobo

What sorts of kinships are forged by a trans woman, particularly as she is forced by circumstances to perform motherhood? How does this trans mother queer the terms of affinity? And what does she do to the family romance that beleaguers most Philippine predicaments? These are the questions which trouble Rod Singh’s debut film Mamu; and a Mother Too.

The premise can only be ingenious, fundamentally challenging reproductive notions of motherhood, and the cisgender structures which frame its prejudices. “Mamu,” is that term of endearment attributed to non-biological maternal figures, queering them at the moment of being hailed as such, “Mamu”: not my mother, but in a manner of speaking, and after all sorts of silent reckonings, my mother too. The film points to this inevitability, at the moment of the mother’s death. Mamu, a trans woman sex worker, must become mother to trans girl Bona, her sister’s daughter. Mamu brings Bona to Olongapo; in the former’s house, Bona must contend with Vincent, Mamu’s cis straight partner; and the most awkward of arrangements are played out for familial affect to take place, among queer folxs. One must not also forget Bona’s induction into a queer community, thanks to the auspices of such matrilineage: trans aunts, trans sisters, queer friends, cis allies, and trans amorous boys, all would nurture their girl’s blossoming.

Iyah Mina in a scene from Mamu. Screengrab from the film’s trailer.

At first, Bona’s introduction to the household only exacerbates the conditions of Mamu’s trans existence. If sex work can barely make ends meet for her and her partner, a part-time mechanic, how can she, a woman past her prime, even support a daughter? The film, as it proceeds, deftly shows us how Mamu copes with the demands of the erotic economy; she bets on online sex, and sometimes, she wins (her income from it contributes to her fund to augment her breasts, a lifelong dream since affirmation). Beyond the tricks of her trade, Mamu affirms herself further as a creative laborer: a cook and an entrepreneur who organically involves her sassy daughter in the family business, and who finally liberates an infantilized partner to explore the world of work he’s always wanted to embrace.

The ghost of maternal reproduction returns however in Bona’s repetition of Mamu’s primary life of labor. After catching her boyfriend cheat on her with a fellow trans girl, Bona engages in sex work, without Mamu’s consent, and even finds herself empowered in the process, to Mamu’s amazement. What Bona could not foresee through her own affirmation was the violence that attended the work around her sex. The context of the film intimated they had lived in the time of Jennifer Laude’s murder, and of course, in Olongapo, of all places. One morning, Bona collapses, and is rushed to the hospital. Her body had been abused, the doctor regrets. In order to prove Mamu’s unconditional motherly love, the film subjects her to all manner of abjection. We ask whether this indignity was necessary to drive home the heroic point. And we ask further: how much of the abjection is seen less from an articulated trans sufferance than an internalized cisheteropatriarchal condescension from within the queer gaze?

For its candid portrayal of a trans mother in the world of sex work, and the various intimacies created in such a proposition, Mamu; and a Mother too is an ecstatic piece of queer cinema in these moribund parts. The style would sometimes yield to melodramatic demeanor, but its filmmakers, especially the performers, must be lauded for raising the complexity of the lives they played in high relief, that is, beyond the frame of the social script that engendered them on screen.

 
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Posted by on 14 August 2019 in 2018 Citations, Philippine Film

 

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The Trans/gender of the Colony: A Critique of Call Her Ganda (PJ Raval, 2018)

Jaya Jacobo

PJ Raval’s documentary Call Her Ganda is an indictment not only of the court decision on the death of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude — one that lowered the sentence of American serviceman Scott Pemberton from murder to homicide — but also of the historical inequality between empire and its colonies, posing yet again the question whether the genocide committed under such circumstances may ever be framed according to the language of reparation available in the present. The case then becomes an opportunity for imperial rule to be interrogated in contemporary terms, and cinema tells the story of how a decolonial future, where emancipated subjects are able to articulate for themselves the just society they deserve, may also be allegorized.

How does cinema proceed to delineate the anatomy of murder, at the same time that a pervading neo-colonial condition is remembered to account for the loss of Jennifer’s life? The design of the documentary is perspicaciously told from the gender that was violated, and this decision to ground the pursuit of justice from a woman’s perspective imbues the film with a sensibility that can only be feminist in its recognition of the personhood that must be valued against the forces and structures which limit her capabilities as a subject.

01 Still1_CHG_JenniferAltar(Still photo courtesy of PJ Raval)

A mother narrates how a trans daughter affirms herself into the beauty that will only be negated by death. The sister is anxious about her queer child, after what her trans sibling had suffered. Jennifer’s lawyer recalls how she had to struggle to earn a degree in university; she could not bear seeing her family remain in poverty, an aspiration shared with Jennifer herself. A Filipina American trans journalist based in New York comes home to document the case. She speaks to Jennifer’s sisters at work, and writes about a trans girl in Olongapo and how she works. A Filipina trans activist chronicles the history of trans women in the country prior to empire, and describes how imperial architectonics have relegated her kind of women to the margins of the post-colony.

These women tell their stories, with Jennifer as premise of the telling. For the most part, they converse, to commiserate, at times disagreeing on certain terms of the case, but in the end, their narratives only posit a common grievance. In the end, what Call Her Ganda‘s contribution is an insight on where empire might begin its admission of guilt. From one testimony to another, the film can’t tell us enough how justice may begin to be served; empire must concede to the women of the colony. Women bore the profoundest agonies of the wars that stole our land and seas. The intruders raped and killed them. If their lives were spared, they bodies were indentured to labor through the promise of enlightenment and modernity. With this intimate knowledge of the collective trauma that pains the country, it is no wonder that the women of the colony are the first to emancipate themselves. They very well know that their gender is the gender of the colony. Babaylans launch a revolt. The women of Malolos demand to be educated. Women have decolonized their minds long before republics are imagined by men.

02 Still2_CHG_NanyMeredith(Still photo courtesy of PJ Raval)

Jennifer Laude’s murder intensifies the call to decolonize further the gender of the colony. Not all women have been emancipated. Trans women were left out, even by their cisgender sisters. Call Her Ganda reminds us that the justice that remains to be served fundamentally exposes the cisheteropatriarchal basis of imperial violence. The genital predicament at the center of the crime against the subaltern woman is a question that is deeply embedded in white masculine privilege. It is hoped that the critique of such regime of truth was activated by the evidentiary consciousness of the women who speak in the documentary. The gender of this critique can only be trans, and I, too, in the name of my sister, am seeking justice.

 
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Posted by on 14 August 2019 in 2018 Citations, Philippine Film

 

Tumatandang Pasulong: Rebyu ng Mamang (Denise O’Hara, 2018)

Aristotle J. Atienza

Kung tutuusin wala namang talagang dapat ikabahala, nakalilimot ang lahat. Pero itong hindi makatanda ang karaniwang sinasadyang tinatandaan, pinapalatandaan para matuldukan. Bilang tanda, isang pagmamarka ang matanda sa kasaysayan ng buhay na natatakdaan ng mga aparato ng lipunang nagbabandilang nararapat nating makamit ang isang matagumpay na pagtanda. Inihahain ng hindi dapat kaligtaang panganay na pelikula ni Denise O’Hara (sa pangarap na pakiusap na pagsikapang lumikha pa) ang Mamang bilang isang katanungang uusisa sa kawalan at kalabisan ng pagtanda ng babae. Kaya’t hindi light-hearted ang Mamang, at mas lalong hindi rin ito feel-good. Ang sabihing magaan at masaya lamang ang pelikula dahil pinalalabnaw ang diumano’y seryosong usapin ng pagtanda ay palipasin lamang ang posibilidad ng imahinasyon (sa kapangyarihan ng katatawanan) na magpanukala ng alangang daigdig sa pagtanda.

Tulad ng maniobra sa kamera sa simula patungo sa bahay na siyang tagpuan ng pelikula, papakialaman natin ang pang-araw-araw na pamumuhay ng isang nagkakaedad nang ina, si Mamang (Celeste Legaspi) sa mga panahong “kapiling” ang kaniyang anak na lalaki, si Ferdie (Ketchup Eusebio). Totoong kinayayamutan niya ang pagtanda, nagrereklamo pa nga kung bakit pinatatagal pa ang kamatayan gayong papunta na rin naman, na pinagagaan ng kaniyang anak na kagagaling lang sa nabigong trabaho at relasyon. Maya’t maya ang harutan ng dalawa, sa pang-aalo ng anak sa kaniyang ina na naniniguradong walang dapat alalahanin sa panibagong buhay sa pagtanda habang magkasama nilang ginagawa ang mga nakasanayan na nilang mag-ina – sa tsismisang paglalakad sa kanilang komunidad, sa pagbabasa ng diyaryo sa sala habang nagtsatsaa, sa pagbisita sa doktor, sa harap ng pagkain, sa hardin, at kahit maging sa pagtulog. Pero paano kung ang seguridad na ito ang mangamba?

MAMANG denise ohara 2018 TSIMISANG LAKARANTsismisang lakaran (Screengrab from Mamang‘s screener)

Darating ang ulan at lindol, hudyat sa sakunang darating sa masinop na lumang bahay nina Mamang, hindi tulad ng buhay at bahay na sabayang gumuguho sa pelikulang Kung Paano Hinihintay ang Dapithapon (Carlo Catu). Babahain ang buhay ni Mamang ng mga pagdalaw mula sa iba’t ibang tauhan ng kaniyang malapit at malayong nakaraan na yayanig sa kaniya upang maramdaman ang sari-saring emosyon ng nagpapatuloy niyang buhay. Haharapin niya ang babaerong asawa, makikipag-away sa dalagang kinalolokohan nito, gagambalain ng sundalong bigla na lamang sumusulpot na nagmamatyag pala sa minamahal niyang “tulisan.” Bilang manonood, maaari nating sabihing nagiging saksi tayo sa kuwento ng unti-unting pagkahulog ni Mamang sa kaniyang mga nakakasalamuha sa kasalukuyan. Pero hindi nagaganap ang lahat sa anyo ng isang pagbabaliktanaw, gaya nang matatagpuan sa Rainbow’s Sunset (Joel Lamangan) o sa Aria (Catu), kundi ipinopook ito sa nagbabagong kalagayan ng pagtanda ni Mamang na ipinararamdam sa kaibahan ng pag-iilaw na maaaring tingnang kalabisan ng iba kaya’t nahuhulaan pero mas pipiliing yakapin bilang kalakasan upang maisalaysay ang panibagong pagtingin sa inaakala nating pagkasira ni Mamang.

Kaparis ng daloy ng pagkaunawa ng pangunahing tauhan sa mga nangyayari sa kaniya, nagiging bahagi tayo sa pagkilala sa kasaysayan ni Mamang na unti-unting nagkakaroon ng kabuluhan sa pagtatangkang bigyan ito ng mga paliwanag na kapani-paniwala. Anong nangyayari kay Mamang? Bakit siya nagkakaganito? Pero hindi ba’t patas ding tingnan na nakapanghihikayat silipin ang pagtanda ni Mamang bilang iba pang uri ng pagsasadaigdig kung aangkingin ang pananaw ng isang matanda. Sa pelikula ang unti-unting pagkahulog ni Mamang ay pagbabalik ng nakaraan bilang pagdanas sa kaniyang kasalukuyan, hindi man ito katanggap-tanggap sa ibang hindi matatanda dahil sa kawalan ng lohika ng pagkilala sa mga partikular na buhay ng pagtanda o sa pangangailangang sugpuin pa nga dala na rin ng matinding medikalisasyon ng pagtanda sa kasalukuyan. (Posible ito sa kondisyon ni Mamang pero mas nagiging posible ang tindi ng katotohanang nararanasan sa pelikula lalo’t nakikita’t naririnig). Maaaring tanawin ang pagtanda ni Mamang bilang trahedyang nagdudulot ng muling pagkabata sa isang nawaglit na panahon ng kaniyang mga naging pag-ibig pero dapat ding pagkatandaan na nagaganap ang lahat ng mga ito sa panahon ng trahedya ng panibagong pagkawala ng kaniyang malapit na nakaraan. Nagpapatuloy ang buhay sa alanganing panganganak ng mga bumibisitang tauhan na nagbibigay-katuparan sa kahilingang paulit-ulit maririnig sa awiting alay kay Santa Clara. Para man ito sa mabuting panahon o sa pinapangarap na pagdadalantao, sa pelikula isa itong kahilingang naisasakatuparan sa kaniyang unti-unting pagtanda bilang muling panganganak. Hindi ito alaalang bumabalik-balik (na nagmumula sa kaniyang kaloob-looban) dahil umiiral sa kaniyang paningin (at sa ating paningin, kaya’t nanggagaling sa labas). Dahil sa ganitong imahinasyon ng direktor, naipoposisyon tayong paniwalaan ang nakikita ni Mamang at hindi lamang ituring ang mga kaganapan bilang bahagi ng kaniyang lumalalang kondisyon. Ang sirain ang kaniyang daigdig sa pagkakaalam ng mga tunay na pangyayari sa mariing pagpapaalala ni Ines (Peewee O’Hara) sa pagtatapos ng pelikula ay pagkasira naman talaga ng daigdig na sa una pa lamang ay naituro nang mahirap tanggapin. Pinagigising siya sa katotohanang hindi naman totoo para sa kaniya. Pinadadaan sa pagdadalamhating itinuturing nating suliranin. Sa huli, kung ganito rin lamang ang pagtanda, walang ibang buhay na pipiliin kundi ang makapiling ang anak sa kabila. Mahihimlay siyang wala na ang kinayamutang pagtanda sapagkat haharapin itong handang-handa na.

MAMANG denise ohara 2018 LALIMLalim (Screengrab from Mamang‘s screener)

Masalimuot ang pagbabalik ng noon dahil hindi man nagkakasama ang malapit at malayong nakaraan ni Mamang, malaki pa rin ang nababago kung paano ituturing ang talastasan ng malayo sa malapit. Ibig sabihin, maaaring maiba ang interpretasyon sa nakaraan sa magkaibang panahon kaya’t napapapayag na tanggaping makabuluhan ang daigdig ng kasalukuyan ni Mamang. Kapansin-pansin dito, bagama’t hindi talaga nagsasanib, ang patuloy pa ring paninigurado ni Ferdie sa kalagayang nararanasan ni Mamang, ang kaniyang pangungunsinti, na kahit na may sariling suliraning pinagdadaanan ay nakakapagbahagi pa rin ng kinakailangang gabay sa ina. Ang anak ay nagiging ina sa inang nagiging anak. Sa kaniyang malayong nakaraan ay wala si Ferdie pero sa panibagong nakaraan na nasasaksihan niya nakaaagapay muli itong umiiral sa kabila ng hindi pag-iral. Kahit sa pagkawala ng anak nagiging kapiling pa rin ito sa pagpasok sa panibago na namang yugto sa pagtanda. Pero hindi lang niya nakakasalamuha ang anak kundi nakapag-iiwan pa ng mga nakatutuwang pagsaling ng alanganing buhay sa pagsagupa niya sa muling pagsasalaysay sa nakaraan. Kahit pa nakapagdadala ng suliranina ang mga lalaking nakakapiling niya, nakapagdudulot pa rin ito ng pakiramdam na mahaba pa rin ang kaniyang buhok na maaaring hindi niya maramdaman kung wala si Ferdie sa kaniyang tabi. Sa ganitong salimuot ng usapan ng alangang buhay sa pagtanda nakapagbubukas ng posibilidad ang pelikulang Mamang ng isang pagtandang hinding-hinding paurong. Buong pusong tinatanggap ni Mamang si Ferdie, sa hindi pagkilala ng kaniyang ama, sa “eskandalong” naganap sa trabaho kaya’t nagawang umalis, at sa pag-ibig na hindi nasuklian mula kay Albert. Nariyan na sa kaniya ang lakas ng loob ng anak sa suliraning binibitbit ng mga pagbisita ng nakaraan sa kaniyang panibagong buhay bilang matandang babaeng bakla na nagkakaroon na ng kapansanan sa pag-iisip.

Hindi dapat kaligtaang nakapag-ambag sa paghulma kay Mamang ang mamarkahang pagganap ng isang Celeste Legaspi, lalo na sa larawan ng matagumpay na pagtandang nakakamit sa kasalukuyan, na nakakikilalang tumimbang, dahil marahil pamilyar, sa mga paggalaw ng katawan na kailangang pagdaanan ni Mamang sa panahon ng kaniyang pagtanda. Madaling sabihing nagagampanan niyang mabuti ang papel dahil sa edad pero mahirap din namang isiping magagawa ito ng lahat ng may edad nang artista na matatagpuang bumabalik muli sa eksena sa kasalukuyan. Lalo na sa kalakaran ng industriyang hindi pa rin naman tumatanda sa kabila ng mga mapangaraping deklarasyon ng bagong edad ng pamemelikula sa pagtatanghal ng mga bago’t batang manlilikha, maitatanong kung anong uri ng produksiyon ang naghihintay sa matatandang tumanda na rin naman sa pelikula? Bagama’t maaaring inaangking tagumpay sa pagpapaksa at pagbibida ang matanda sa harap ng mga malawakang sirkulasyon ng mga sari-saring pagpapabata, mananatiling malaking katanungan pa rin kung paano ginagawang suliranin ang katandaan upang maisiwalat ang ikinukubling panggugulang sa edad. Masayang malungkot, kaya’t matapang, na hinarap ang suliraning ito  sa Mamang na maaaring makaligtaan kaya nga’t kailangang markahan.

 
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Posted by on 14 August 2019 in 2018 Citations, Philippine Film

 

Visions of Love: A review of Kung Paano Siya Nawala (Joel Ruiz, 2018)

Skilty Labastilla

When the local mainstream film industry has specialized in churning out paint-by-numbers love stories, the release of a romance film that gets it right is a cause for celebration. Kung Paano Siya Nawala is about Lio (JM de Guzman), a young man who suffers from face blindness: he can’t recognize people beyond his immediate family by their faces. He has to hear them clearly or focus on distinguishing marks on their visages. His life gets complicated when he meets and eventually falls hard for Shana (Rhian Ramos), a carefree barista bent on turning a new leaf in life.

The beauty of this film is not really hinged on the novelty of its story – it’s a fairly standard boy-meets-girl, boy-learns-of-girl’s-not so pleasant-past, boy-gets-insecure, boy-asserts-masculinity-and-abruptly-repudiates girl, boy-realizes-he-has-lost-good-person-and-woos-girl-back narrative. It can even be accused of taking a page off of MPDG* films, where the brooding male lead character gets taught to embrace life’s adventures by a flighty and quirky girl.

KPSN Stills_1(Still photo courtesy of Joel Ruiz)

The miracle in how Kung Paano Siya Nawala breaks free from being a run-of-the-mill romance film lies on the excellent handling of five significant elements of film: directing, performance, cinematography, editing, and music, as well as on its welcome take on gender politics in local romance films.

Director (and co-writer) Joel Ruiz understands that the best romance films rely a lot on establishing mood. By letting the film breathe and delight in minute details (e.g., on the bed facing each other as they wake up Lio tucks a stray clump of hair clear of Shana’s face, Shana covers her mouth with the tip of a blanket before saying “I love you” — morning breath is real!), Ruiz entices viewers to get into the groove of euphoric haze of young love. One standout scene is when Lio and Shana slow-dance in a bar while Up Dharma Down’s “Anino” plays and Lio suddenly sees Shana everywhere in the bar. While the music is set in the original tempo and the movement of the people around Lio and Shana (including the pseudo-Shanas) are shot at normal speed, the medium shot of the couple in embrace is slightly slowed down to heighten Lio’s initial confusion and eventual realization of how special Shana is to him at that time.

shanasShana is everyone in the bar. (Screengrab from Kung Paano Siya Nawala screener)

Ike Javellana’s lighting matches the film’s moods — bathing the scenes in sunshine during the lovey-dovey phase; in hues of red and orange in the surreal and, for such a face-blind person as Lio, overwhelming, bar scenes; and in cold blue during the pivotal fight/breakup scene. His shots and camera angles also obviously play a huge part in making the film gorgeous to look at.

Lawrence Ang, a previous YCC awardee for Salvage (2015), lends his signature playful, snappy yet fluid editing in putting together scenes and manages to lend them both weight and levity.

Lastly, acclaimed indie artist Armi Millare renders the perfect sonic atmosphere to the film, never overpowering it with music, respecting its silences. Millare and her band UDD are now considered OPM giants because of the honesty and intimacy of their lyrics coupled with their inventiveness in their compositions, and Millare brings that to the film.

The film playfully works around the theme of vision/visuality in cinema: what we see as viewers are what Lio sees, so even we have to second-guess the real identities of the various women he meets. The film can be read as a commentary on the sameness of the ideal modern female form, hairstyle and fashion. In global consumerism, everyone wants to look a standard and, in a way, we become face-blind until we get to know each individual by heart.

In the film, Shana rebukes Lio for using his condition as a crutch; when he lashes out at people and hurts them, he blames his “abnormality” instead of the real reason — his fragile masculinity. It’s heartening that a film written by two men and directed by a man can be critical about men and the bullshit that women go through in heterosexual relationships.

*manic pixie dream girl

 
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Posted by on 14 August 2019 in 2018 Citations, Philippine Film