Category Archives: Film Review

Bridging Folklore and Reality

Lisa Ito

Positioned within the genre of horror film, Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian (Alvin Yapan, 2016) opens on an ominous note. The tale takes place, after all, on a Good Friday: that one day of the Lenten season when, in Philippine folk Catholicism, malevolent spirits are most manifest.

A nurse (Francis) and an ambulance driver (Bong), respectively played by Sandino Martin and Joem Bascon, are returning home to the province after bringing a patient to Manila for surgery. As darkness settles in during the ride, the tired and sleep-deprived pair amuse themselves by sharing versions of ghost stories,  superstitions and urban legends. Their idle exchanges drift between weary recollections and irreverent banter, drifting away from the whispered weight of their ward’s parting warning: take care.

Their journey comes to sudden stop before a rural bridge called San Sebastian, where a series of unfortunate events unfold in quick succession. As midnight approaches, the pair attempt to escape the vicinity, as their tales, one by one, spring to life and spiral out of control.

The film begins with a productive note of tension through the use of recurring motifs during the first half. Upon reaching the bridge, however, this cohesiveness disintegrates and is dispersed through a pastiche of malevolent tropes: apparitions solitary and processional, mendicant ghouls, killers of various persuasions, undead monsters, and encounters with the diabolic.

The technical execution of the story, similarly, spans a broad range of merits and demerits. The film, for instance, has been panned in the press for its incredulously awkward execution of CGI effects. On the other hand, it is also notable for its convincing employment of color grading to simulate the night scenes wherein the story unfolds.

Such visual unevenness is threaded through and overridden by its notable performances. Martin and Bascon effectively portray complementary roles as a duo, highlighting the psychological tension and dilemmas that fear draws out in the individual. The film’s seamless wielding of sound and music also preserves and prolongs the suspense established early on in the narrative. Fresh aural juxtapositions and counterpoints arise with elements such as the original musical score using the traditional Japanese koto, the mournful dirge of a local marching band, and ambient sounds by teeming presences beyond the bridge.

The work has much to offer beyond its surreal narrative and technical exploration. Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian and other similar productions underscore how, on a larger and longer scale of practice, the genre of Philippine horror film has traditionally appropriated influences from folklore and history, superstition and urban legend. This filmic fascination with the multo, aswang and other supernatural beings, for instance, can be seen throughout early cinematic productions—Ang Aswang (1933), the first talking picture produced in the Philippines, is one often cited pre-war example—to more current releases such as the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise flourishing since the 1980s.

It is interesting that Yapan chooses the night of Good Friday as the opportune moment to reenact this tendency. The day marking Christ’s death, here, becomes a portal for the performative resurrection of folkloric figures. These residual and resistant presences, delegitimized during the phases of colonial assimilation and forced modernity, still lurk in the borders between city and province: in roadsides, rivers and forests untouched by light and infrastructural expansion.

On the other hand, it is also noted that the genre of horror is also fertile ground for the perpetuation and propagation of problematic dichotomies—between folklore and modernity, the old and the new, countryside and metropolis, superstition and reason, for instance. The YCC took note of this tendency before in the publication Sining ng Sineng Filipino (2009), noting the prevalence of such in films of the past decade:

“Nitong mga huling taon ay kapansin-pansin ang pagbibigay-tuon sa mga tinataguriang “modernong” kabataan na “nagbabakasyon” sa probinsiya upang sinasadya o di-sinasadyang harapin ang makaluma subalit konteporaneoung mundo ng mga aswang at maligno, ng mga espirito at totoong tao, ng hiwaga at mga lantad na realidad,..Sa mga sineng ito, ang kababalaghan ay idinidikit sa mga liblib na lugar, at ang mga lugar na ito ay mga lunan ng adventure o “happening” ng mga sinasabing makabagong kabataan. Mahalagang pag-aralan ang ginagawang makitid at simplistikong paghahati ng moderno at tradisyunal, ng luma at bago.”

Does the film Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian go the route of mirroring such binaries, in this tale of a rural bridge? Perhaps, but not entirely: for while it adapts the surface trappings of the genre, it also consciously introduces rogue elements to alter its configurations on a more structural level.

For one, that the characters are not clueless city slickers hieing off to some adventure in the unknown hinterlands, but are instead locals returning home to the province and finding themselves in an inescapable portal casts some sense of psychological ambiguity to their subject position. The transition from metropolis to provincial highway should be familiar territory to them but isn’t: instead, horror lies in how home and its intimate locality inexplicably slips further out of reach.

Secondly, much of the medley of supernatural characters they encounter are also derived from urban legends and true events: spectral remnants of real-tragedies for whom justice remains elusive to date. Mixed up with more ancient tales are newer apparitions stemming from the violent aftermaths of suicides, vehicular collisions, roadside hold-ups, massacres, rebellions and the like. The overall effect of such malevolent overload may also be the most redemptive quality of the film. For it underscores how beliefs from the distant past can intersect and interact with contemporary phenomenon such as vehicular collisions, crime, and militarization:  some primary vehicles for present-day horror, terror and loss for the people in Philippine society.

The on-site location of the film — a Spanish colonial-era stone bridge lying parallel to a modern concrete one in Tayabas, Quezon— furthermore makes material and metaphorical the realization of how past and present run parallel to each other. The dual structure serves as both setting and symbol for the necessity of pagtawid, the act of connecting and crossing such demarcated states. This act brings one to the final point. Here, the duo’s last desperate crossing ends on an ambiguous note, concluding the journey but subtly putting into question the dawning of day and the resurrection as the final destination of it all.

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Posted by on 25 April 2017 in Film Review



We Are Still Here

Emerald Flaviano

It’s the first week of classes in a public high school in Angeles City, Pampanga, sometime in the late 1990s and a boy, backpacked and solitary, stares at a group of his classmates horsing around. We follow his line of sight and so are party to the rowdy youngsters’ rude return to the boy’s indifferent gaze. Later, these very same teenagers get a tongue-lashing from the anti-“barriotic” English teacher while the boy, smirking, looks on. And so 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten’s hero, Felix Salonga (Khalil Ramos), is introduced. A world contained within himself, Felix has always been alone. He is the top student in his class because he really is smart, and not because he sucks up to the teacher (as his frumpy #2 and #3, Zarina and Girlie do). He has no friends, but is cool with it, having no use for the “unremarkable individuals in this forlorn school.”

His world is upset however, when the Snyder brothers transfer to his school. For the first time, something that is not Omegaboy interests the characteristically unengaged Felix. The sons of a US serviceman and a Filipina Fields Avenue hooker, Magnus (Ethan Salvador) and Maxim (Jameson Blake) are unlike anyone Felix has ever met: pale, handsome, English-speaking, and rich, they disturb the social structure of the small high school. Magnus inadvertently displaces the reigning alpha male of the class, Felix attracts the envious attention of girls eyeing Magnus, and teachers try to seduce either of the brothers. But for Felix, who becomes a regular in the Snyder household helping Magnus with his geometry, the reason is also economic. For the brothers, money is immaterial: Magnus pays Felix ten dollars per geometry lesson, while Maxim hands out dollars for dares. On the other hand, money has always been scarce in the Salonga household, but Felix thinks that the “pieces of green paper” he has been collecting in a tin can—proceeds from his tutoring—bring him closer to the same level as to the Snyder brothers.


Magnus Snyder. (screengrab from 2 Cool 2 B 4gotten’s screener)

The brothers are both good-looking, but Felix gets particularly taken with the aptly-named Magnus, the gentler of the two. Magnus’ small kindnesses—a borrowed Walkman, mixtapes—and not-yet-outgrown love of Omegaboy endear him to Felix. Magnus is the golden-haired Florante, who Felix saves from a lions’ den of dull classmates and sexually predatory teachers, the misguided dream to go to the US, the malevolent Maxim. Yet it is Felix’s sharing of what is probably the single most significant—up until Magnus’ death that is—event in his young life that Felix affirms his love for his only and best friend. He takes Magnus to the place where his old house used to stand, now buried under the lahar, and recounts the day the Pinatubo erupted and his family’s narrow escape. “[T]here was nothing. It was like our house didn’t even exist at all. The lahar took everything,” Felix remembers while Magnus listens. Felix is surprised to receive Magnus’ “You’re pretty cool, Felix” and an awkward but heartfelt side-hug, but is grateful nevertheless. For it is not only Magnus’ concern that Felix gets, but a perfect understanding of himself: Felix might still be uncomfortable with being “gay,” constrained as he is by his youth and the conservative environment he grew up in, but he knows for certain that he loves (has) Magnus, and that is all that matters.

Yet for all Felix’s fascination with the Magnus, he cannot quite understand why leaving the Philippines for the US means so much for the Snyder brothers. “This shitty country,” “a horrible place for me and Magnus” are how they describe the only home that they have always known. 2 Cool does not quite tease out Magnus and Maxim’s isolation, but what little it does offer is enough to read on probabilities. Despite being born and growing up in Pampanga, the brothers don’t (can’t?) speak either Kapampangan or Tagalog, don’t have any friends, and are most unlikely to have known family other than their mother. They live in a bubble, expats confined in their “little America” (the former Clark Air Base), with its joyless copies of the typical American suburban home (“picturesque houses,” is how the starry-eyed Felix describes them). In a city full of families who have yet to recover from the eruption of the Pinatubo, the brothers in their porma, with their dollars and English, are alien. Felix’s clumsy lyricism—“The shiny shimmering Snyder brothers. The dual dukes of exquisiteness. The genetic miracles of interracial copulation.”—describing Magnus and Maxim, while funny, hints at the reverent distancing that the brothers have always had to endure. Their difference has always defined them first and marked them out, and in this isolation the brothers has always had only one another. But at the crucial moment, when it comes in an afternoon in the middle of Subic Bay’s choppy waters, Magnus jumps off their bobbing buoy to save their mother—the unsuspecting collateral damage of Maxim’s plan to get their chance at really belonging somewhere.


Magnus and Maxim Snyder, alone together. (screengrab from 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten‘s screener)

Petersen Vargas’ debut feature 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten (2016) expands on his previous work on gay sexual awakening with his short film Lisyun Qng Geografia and benefits from Jason Paul Laxamana’s continuing engagement with issues of race in a post-US bases Pampanga. Laxamana’s script paints a painstaking picture of high school and its—now ridiculously pointless—rituals: the sing-song greetings, the gratifying and shaming top 3s, bottom 3s, and ruler smacks. But this nostalgic return is made more effective by Felix’s awkwardly affected English for his journal project, an accurate reminder of youthful fumblings for one’s own voice.

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Posted by on 17 April 2017 in Film Review



Muling Pagkabuhay

Aristotle J. Atienza

Paparada ang pulang multicab sa isang walang lamang kalye sa Cebu, at unti-unti ay magiging karinderyang dadalawin ng mga nakakakilala rito. Karaniwan na marahil ang ganitong panahon sa lugar pero mararamdaman sa mga kumakain na naiibang araw itong masasaksihan. Mamamatyagan nila ang babaeng naghihiwa ng breaded porkchop, si Iyay (Jaclyn Jose), nang walang pagdadalamhating sasambiting “patay na si Hesus,” ang matagal na niyang hiwalay na asawa, at ama sa tatlong malalaki nang anak.

Sa pelikulang Patay na si Hesus (Victor Villanueva, 2016), mamarkahan ang kamatayan bilang panahon sa kasaysayan ng buhay ng isang pamilya. At bagama’t pananda sa pagsisimula ng mga suliraning  haharapin ng pelikula, aabangan sa palabas, hudyat ng panibagong kabanata, hindi ito naging memoryalisasyon, malungkot na pag-alaala sa nakaraan, pagbabaliktanaw sa naging buhay, kundi pagpapaalala sa kasalukuyang hinaharap kapiling ang matagal nang nawala. Sa madaling salita, ang tatahakin ng pelikula sa pagkamatay ng dating bana at ama ay hindi ang nakaraang tiwalag sa kasalukuyan kundi ang hinaharap ay ang kasalukuyang patuloy na sinusundan ng anino ng nakaraan. Tataluntunin ang pagtugon sa kamatayan ng kapamilya sa mga posibilidad ng katatawanan na maingat na binalangkas sa panulat nina Fatrick Tabada at Moira Lang subalit ipopook hindi sa pamilyar na tahanan, itong kinalakhang lunan ng melodramang domestiko, kundi sa iba’t ibang lawak ng katauhan at kapuluan sa labas ng tahanan na makakaengkuwentro at makakahalubilo habang binabagtas ang mga lansangan patungong Negros sa pagdalaw sa burol ni Hesus. Kasabay natin sa biyahe nila sa baha-bahagi ng Kabisayaang hindi madalas masaksihan ang mapaglarong musika ni Francis Veyra na naghahatid ng kasariwaang nagmamapa sa nilalakbay na kasaysayan at kapaligiran.

Sakay ng kanilang munting sasakyan ang pamilya, kasama maging si Hudas (Sadie), ang alagang shih tzu. Para ngang may outing lang, sabi ng anak, lalo na’t maraming pinamiling hinanda si Iyay para sa lamay ni Hesus. Pero sa daan tulad ng aasahan, hindi magiging magaan ang paglalakbay papuntang Dumaguete dahil binibitbit ang mga bagaheng dinadala na bago pa man lisanin ang tahanan. Sa panahong patay na si Hesus sasambulat ang lahat ng krus na pinapasan. Makatatanggap ng balita si Iyay na nanganganib na mawala ang puwesto ng karinderya. Nang sunduin nila si Lucy (Angelina Kanapi), ang kapatid niyang madre, na sasamang makikipaglibing ay tila nakalaya ito sa Monastery of the Holy Eucharist na kaniyang pinanggalingan. Masasaksihan ni Jude/Judith Marie (Chai Fonacier) ang pambababae ng nobya na halos ibigay na ang lahat, pati ang pag-aaral kay Mia (Precious Miel Espinoza), ang batang anak ng kinakasamang babae. Walang kinukuhang trabaho dahil umaasang ipapasa ang board exam na dalawang beses nang kinuha, nabuntis ni Jay (Melde Montañez) ang nobya. Sa huli, hahanapin nila ang mawawalang si Bert/Hubert (Paul Vincent Viado), ang panganay na anak na may Down syndrome, na piping saksi sa mga kabaliwan ng kaniyang pamilya, tatakasan niyang lahat ito at mauuna nang tutungong mag-isa sa Dumaguete karga-karga si Hudas. Binubuhay ng matitingkad na pagganap, may kani-kaniyang suliraning binibitbit ang bawat isa pero ang sapilitang pagsasama-sama nila sa sasakyan at sa daan ay tatawid sa mga espasyong masasangkutan ng lahat, ang pamilya, at ang pamilyang umaandar sa kahabaan ng mga ugnayang kapuluan. Problema ng lahat ang problema ng isa.

Waring walang tuwirang kaugnayan sa nasirang asawa at ama ang mga pinagdadaanang suliranin ng isa’t isa. Pero ang mga rebelasyon sa paglalakbay na masinop na dinisenyo sa pelikula ay mga bakas na naiwan sa mismong pagkawala ni Hesus noon pa man. Naging paalala ito ng mga kinahinatnan ng inaakalang paglusaw ng tradisyonal na pamilya. Wala kasi si Hesus kaya nangyayari ang lahat ng ito sa kanila. Bibitbitin ni Iyay na marahil ay kasalanan niya kung ano ngayon ang tinatamasa. Kung hindi lang siya nagmatigas, sabi niya. Na maaaring hindi nga ito naging ganito kung tinanggap niya ang pagmamakaawang magkabalikan na sila ng babaerong asawa. Pero hindi ito ang nangyari at matagal nang wala na si Hesus sa piling nila. Noon pa man napagluksaan na nila ang ama, at nakabangon-bangon na sila sa pagtataguyod nang mag-isa ni Iyay. Mahalaga ito lalo na sa bago nang pamilya ng dating asawa na bago pa lamang ang pagkawala, kay Linda (Olive Nieto). Mag-uusap ang babae sa babae, ina sa ina, makakayang lampasan din ang takot sa panahong patay na ang bana. At sino pa nga ba ang makasisigurong makababangon muli kahit wala ang lalaki kundi si Iyay na pinasasariwa at pinasisigla ng katimpiang nakasanayan kay Jaclyn Jose.

Pormalidad na lang marahil kay Iyay ang kamatayan ni Hesus na nagmamarka sa kasaysayan ng hindi napansing “tagumpay” sa pakikipagsapalaran sa matagal nang hiwalay na asawa at ama.  Ipinapaalala ang nagawa at nakayanan sa kaniyang pagkawala. Hindi na nakapagtataka kung bakit hindi madaling iyakan ang pagkamatay niya samantalang tila kay dali-dali namang magpakawala ng luha sa pagkawala ng nobya, halimbawa. Kung bakit maaaring piliing hindi na lamang sumama sa burol at kung bakit hindi dapat tumangging hindi pumunta sa kabila ng lahat ng nangyari sa kanila. Demonyo man iyon, tatay pa rin nila iyon, sabi nga ni Iyay. Aabot sa kasukdulan ang kasidhian ng damdamin sa mga ugnayang nalilikha at nabubuo sa mismong araw ng libing ni Hesus habang mabagal na umuusad ang karo ng patay na sinusundan ng mga nagmamahal sa nawalang buhay, papalahaw sa pag-iyak sina Iyay, Hubert, Jude, at Jay sa nasagasaang alagang shih tzu. Sa ganitong kalagayan, tiyak na ang paggunita sa makasaysayang paninimbang sapagkat mamarkahan sa panahon ng kamatayan ni Hudas.  Pabalik ng Cebu, may panibagong kabanata silang lalakbayin. Ano ngayon ang haharaping hinaharap nila? Ano ang mga bubuuin at bubunuin nina Bert, Jude, at Jay? May ipinapaalala ang pelikula: nasa krisis (lagi) ang pamilya.

Sa panahong patay na si Hesus, nagiging posible ang mga kababalaghang nararanasan ng mag-anak. Napalilitaw pang lalo sa pagpapatibay sa katatagan ng pamilyang matagal nang sumuway sa kasaysayang nararapat nitong tahakin. Pero bagama’t nakalalaya ay matatagpuang sinusubaybayan pa rin ng aninong hulmado ng mga gawain ng simbahan. Sa pelikulang Patay na si Hesus, posible pa rin ang pamilya, may buhay pa rin ito, muling nabubuhay ito, sa labas ng mga inaasahang katuparan ng mga sinagradong batas ng institusyong lagi’t laging mapagmasid, mapanimbang, at mapagparusa. Madilim at mapanganib kung tutuusin, subalit tila, parang, mukhang hindi lalo na’t isinasariwa sa mga kaparaanan ng katatawanang binisaya.

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Posted by on 17 April 2017 in Film Review



Palit-Piso, Palit-Ulo

Jema M. Pamintuan

Detalyadong inilahad ng pelikulang Ma’ Rosa ni Brillante Ma. Mendoza ang iba’t ibang bersiyon at antas ng pangangapital, na umiiral sa isang ekonomiyang batbat ng iregularidad at katiwalian. Nagsimula ang lahat sa isang transaksyon sa grocery. Kasama ni Rosa (Jaclyn Jose) ang anak niyang si Erwin (Jomari Angeles) na namili ng mga komoditing ibebenta niya nang tingian sa kaniyang sari-sari store. Kulang ng dalawampu’t limang sentimos ang sukli sa kaniya ng kahera, subalit hindi ito pinalampas ni Rosa. Malinaw ang pagpapakilala ng pelikula sa karakter ni Rosa; matalas at mautak pagdating sa kuwentahan, kaya bagaman nakiusap ang kahera ay hindi muna nagpatalo si Rosa. At saka lamang niya kinuha ang iniabot na ilang pirasong kendi ng kahera kapalit ng hindi naisukling barya. Ibinadya ng eksena ang iinugang tesis ng pelikula hinggil sa dalumat at istratehiyang kaakibat ng mga kalakal, palitan, at kontratang nagpapaandar sa komunidad ni Rosa.

Sa pagsakay nina Rosa sa taxi ay dadalhin ng kamera ang manonood sa kahabaan ng mga kalye ng kalunsurang babaybayin ng sasakyan. Mahusay ang kamera ni Odyssey Flores na nagdala sa esensya at kabuluhan ng sinematograpiya sa isa pang natatanging antas ng representasyon at elaborasyon, sa naratibong tinatalastas ng iba’t ibang hulagway. Sa halip na ipakita ang mga barung-barong na nakahanay sa mga kalyeng dinaraanan, nagtuon ang kamera sa tila walang katapusan at sala-salabid na electric wiring na natatanaw sa labas ng bintana ng taxi, at sapat na ang kapal, dami, pagkabuhul-buhol at sikip ng magkakadikit na wiring na ito para ilarawan ang masisikip ding mga daan at kabahayan ng makikitid na eskinita ng Maynila, kung saan naroon ang tahanan ni Rosa. Dito mabibigyang kabatiran ang matrix ng masalimuot na mga ugnayang bumubuo sa ekonomiya at industriyang underground na kinasasangkutan ni Rosa. At dahil underground, malaki ang posibilidad ng kawalan ng istabilisasyon nito.

Sa kabuuan ng pelikula ay isinalaysay ng kamera at tunog ang samu’t saring paraan at pinagkukunan ng kabuhayan ng maralitang urban na espasyo, rehistrado man o hindi ang mga negosyong ito. Mula sa mga munting sari-sari store, rentahan ng internet sa mababang halaga (pisonet), pagbenta ng mga pagkain sa kalye, tulad ng betamax, isaw, fishball, hanggang sa iba pang paraan ng pagkita ng salapi—sugal gamit ang mga baraha, paluwagan, at pautang (5-6). Pinaarkila ng panganay na anak ni Rosa na si Jackson (Felix Roco) ang kanilang karaoke machine. Masigla ang komunidad, umangkas pa ang maiingay na usapan ng mga residente, kantahan mula sa karaoke machine, sa gitna ng mga bulyaw at utos ni Rosa sa asawang si Nestor (Julio Diaz) at mga anak.

Matutuklasang sa likod ng inosenteng sari-sari store ni Rosa ay dumodoble kara rin ito bilang bentahan ng ipinagbabawal na droga. Gaya ng mga kendi at merchandise na ibinebenta nang tingian, ay ganoon din ang mga droga na inilalagay sa maliliit na sisidlang plastik at ibinebenta sa ilang mga kontak ni Rosa. Mabisang naiparating ng pelikula ang taktika nina Rosa sa pangalawa nilang negosyo. Walang formalidad, walang business permit, subalit may sariling sistema at kalakaran sa pagpapatakbo nito. Dito ay may mga “ID” at “passcode” na alam at sinusunod ng mga nagbebenta/kliyente para masigurong tama ang kinakausap o kontak. Isinilid ni Nestor sa pakete ng sigarilyo ang maliit na plastik na may lamang droga (mga iilang gramo lamang ito) at iniabot sa bumibili nito pagkatapos sambitin ang “passcode.” May listahan din ng mga pangalan ng kontak si Rosa na nakasulat sa isang notebook at nakatago sa isa sa mga eskaparate ng kaniyang tindahan.

Nagsagawa ng raid ang mga pulis, at hinuli sina Rosa at Nestor. Isinakay ng mga pulis sina Rosa at Nestor sa maliit na dyip. Dadalhin naman ng kamera ang manonood palayo sa tahanan, palayo sa komunidad ni Rosa. Wala na ang mga pamilyar na tunog, amoy, usok mula sa mga ibinebentang pagkain sa kalye. Ikukuwento ngayon ng kamerang nakafokus sa mukha ni Rosa kung paanong nagbago na ang disposisyon nito, malayo sa madiskarteng Rosa sa grocery. Sa mga tahimik na eksena tulad nito lumilitaw ang natatanging pagtatanghal ng aktres na si Jaclyn Jose. Umid na ang Rosa na kani-kanina lamang ay matalim ang dilang nagbibilin sa mga anak. Mula sa dyip ay matatanaw ang isang pamilyang nagtutulungan sa pagbuhat at pagsasaayos ng mga bote ng softdrinks, at ang iba’t ibang suson ng pangungusap ng mukha ni Rosa. Sa ilang segundong iyon na pagkakatitig ni Rosa sa pamilya animo’y mababanaagan kung paanong mas ibig na lang sana niya harapin ang pagod sa pagsasaayos at pagsasalansan ng mga ibebenta, at pag-imbentaryo sa mga ito. Pagkat alam niya kung paano ito gawin, at alam niyang matatapos din ito, kaysa harapin itong kawalang katiyakan ng kanilang pagkaaresto.

Mainam kung paano isinasangkot ng kamera ang manonood, halimbawa sa eksenang animo’y nakasunod lamang ito sa tila walang katapusang paglalakad ng mga naaresto papasok sa presinto. Nilampasan nila ang presinto, pasikip nang pasikip ang mga pasilyong dinaraanan nina Rosa, ibang-iba na sa pamilyar na mga eskinita ng kaniyang komunidad, ang komunidad kung saan alam ni Rosa kung paano tutugon, at kung paano hindi malalamangan. Pero sa tagóng kuwarto kung saan sila dinala ng mga pulis, tantyado at kalkulado ang kaniyang mga galaw at salita. Mapahahalagahan ang mga diyalogo at pagtatanghal ng mga aktor at aktres sa mga eksenang ito, na damang-dama ang tensyon sa interogasyon ng mga pulis sa mga naaresto, at pagbabantulot ng mga naaresto sa pagtugon sa mga tanong, nangingibabaw ang buong pag-iingat sa bawat bibitiwang salita.

Ipinairal sa kuwartong ito ang mga kritikal na transaksyong mahalagang pinagpasyahan nina Rosa. Sa puntong ito ng pelikula, masinsin pang pinalawig ang kabuluhan ng ekonomiyang kanilang kinabibilangan. Tinugaygay ang higit pang desperadong mga pamamaraan upang makalikom ng pera, tulad ng pagbebenta at pagsangla ng mga gamit, pagdistrungka sa ritmo ng paluwagan, paglalako ng katawan, ekstorsyon, at blackmail. Hindi na lamang ito palitan ng mga produkto at pera, kundi, presyo ng katahimikan, presyo ng salita at pangalan. Maayos na nabigyang-artikulasyon ng mga eksena ang kaselanan ng negosasyon, na katulad ng hanapbuhay ni Rosa at ilang kapitbahay, ay iregular din, at hindi opisyal na nakatala. Ang ikinaiba rito, ay iisang panig lamang ang may kapangyarihang magpasya at magdikta ng mga kondisyon at katumbas ng pagpapalaya sa mga naaresto. Kinakatawan ng kuwartong ito, ng under-the-table na set-up ng mga pulis ang isang arena na di tiyak, at mabilis na nagbabago. Ni hindi rin pormal na nakalista sa police log ang pangalan nina Rosa at Nestor nang tanungin ito ng kanilang mga anak na dumalaw sa presinto. Walang nagtatala ng statement, walang mga pormal na prosesong sinusunod sa interogasyon. Ang karupukan ng ilegal na industriya ay sinalungguhitan pa ng balatkayo ng mga pulis, na bagaman nakauniporme at nasa ilalim ng islogan ng PNP na “We Serve and Protect,” ay tulad din ng tindahan ni Rosa, na may pagkukunwari, sa konteksto nito, pumapangalawang mga berdugo, at sila palang may malaking partisipasyon sa mga nagpapaandar sa kabuuang makinarya ng krimeng mapagkukunan nila ng salapi.

Dahil sa iregularidad ng kalakarang ito, mataas ang posibilidad ng paglabag sa mga kasunduan, kaya tulad ng anumang ekonomikong palitan, mahalaga ang isang antas ng garantiya at tiwala sa mga kasangkot sa kalakalan. Dahil walang anumang batas at tuntunin na nakatala sa mga notebook, sa panig nina Rosa at ng mga pulis, lilikha sila ngayon din ng kontrata. Ito ang kalakarang susundin nila; magbabanggit ng pangalan ng nagbebenta ng ilegal na droga sina Rosa, kapalit ng kanilang paglaya. At may istratehiya ang mga pulis para makuha ito mula kina Rosa. Dumating ang punto sa eksena na nagbibiruan na ang mga pulis, inaamo ang mga naaresto, para magkaroon sila ng maayos na pagkakasunduan. Ang mababagsik na mga tanong, ang pahapyaw na pagsambit ng “may karapatan kayong manahimik” sa unang bahagi ng interogasyon, ay nauwi sa mas kasuwal na usapan at aregluhan, at tuluyan nang naisiwalat ang impormalidad ng opisina/kuwarto. Naging umpukan na ito, inilabas ng houseboy nila ang videoke. Bumili ng lechon manok at beer gamit ang perang puwersado nilang kinuha kay Jomar (Kristoffer King), ang itinurong dealer nina Rosa.  Gayunman, dahil nga kumbaga’y lista sa tubig lamang ang kasunduan, hindi pa pala makalalaya sina Rosa. Kailangan muna nilang magbigay ng dagdag pang limampung libong piso, at dito, walang opsyon kung hindi ang sumunod, pagkat walang mararating ang husay sa kuwentahan at argumentasyon ni Rosa.

Mariin ang komentaryo ng pelikula rito, na kung tutuusi’y higit pang may sistema, at higit pang sistematiko ang inakalang magulong komunidad ni Rosa. Silang maliliit at maralitang nagkukumahog para sa kanilang buhay at kabuhayan ay pawang mga kasangkapan, mga kapital, at puhunan ng linsad na makapangyarihang pumipiga ng kapakinabangan mula sa mga katawang ito. Sa pagkakahuli kay Jomar, nagpadala ito ng text upang ipaalam sa isang Major Jasmin ang pagkakadakip sa kaniya, na ikinagalit (at posibleng labis na ikinatakot) ng mga pulis. Hindi ang mga pangalang gaya ng Major Jasmin ang nakalista sa notebook ng mga tulad ni Rosa, kaya kapag nagkagipitan, laging ang nasa itaas na istratum ang nakikinabang, may seguridad, at ligtas. Napag-alaman ni Jackson na ang kaibigang si Bongbong (Timothy Mabalot) ang nagbigay ng impormasyon sa mga pulis kaya naaresto ang kaniyang mga magulang, at ito ay upang mailabas ni Bongbong sa kulungan ang kapatid. Na ginawa rin nina Rosa at Nestor kay Jomar. Siklo na lamang ang patuloy na pagsusustina sa mga nasa itaas ng mga gaya nina Bongbong, Rosa, at Jomar. At hangga’t may makukuha sa mga ito, walang katapusan ang mga blackmail, ang mga banta at pakiusap, at mga paglabag sa impormal na kasunduan. Sa pamamagitan ng matagumpay na pagtatahi ng naratibo, editing, tunog at musika, sinematograpiya, at mahusay na mga pagtatanghal, malinaw at malalim ang talab ng pelikula sa pagsesemento ng kritisismo nito sa volatility na kumakatawan sa temperamento ng isang uri ng ekonomiyang nakasandal sa maligalig na sistema.

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Posted by on 17 April 2017 in Film Review



Musings on the Mundane

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

The appellation “Mrs.” is referred to as a courtesy title, but the woman who bears it, however willingly or happily, submits to the effacement of her birth name and the subordination of her personhood to her marital (and, sometimes, parental) status—a highly ritualized and widely socially accepted process that deserves greater scrutiny as to the degree of respect or consideration that it actually affords to the said woman. Mrs. (2016), directed by Adolfo Alix, Jr., engages the issues with which this form of address is fraught and resonates by way of exploring a complex set relationships—sororal, adversarial, filial, mentorial, and platonic—between women in the course of a relatively spare drama.

Chief among these relationships is that between a pensioner recently recovered from a bout of hospitalization, Virgie (Elizabeth Oropesa), and her resident caretaker, Delia (Lotlot De Leon). The house that they inhabit, overly large for two people and a gaggle of dogs and cats, shows many signs of wear and tear, in connection not only with its age but also with its being built over an active fault line—running along the walls are cracks attesting to structural damage.

In spite of the dilapidation that surrounds her, Virgie intends to continue living there, keeping faith with the memory of her father, who had bequeathed the house to her, and clinging to the belief that her son, Sonny Boy (Sebastian Castro), a communist guerilla who disappeared years ago, will surface one day soon. Her determination, if not obduracy, to remain draws her into intermittent bouts of antagonism with her relatives. Her younger sister, Glenda (Daria Ramirez), the legatee of the land on which the house stands, is eager to sell off her inheritance in order to mitigate the consequences of her spendthrift ways, not least among them the large debt to Virgie that she has racked up over several years. Virgie’s daughters, Marina (Rosanna Roces) and Jenny (Angelina Kanapi), believe that she would be better off staying elsewhere.

Image result for mrs adolfo alix

Delia, who for two decades has helped Virgie around the house and kept her company, is, in her own way, as unwavering as Virgie. When Delia discloses her plan to marry her lover at the forthcoming mass wedding ceremony sponsored by the local government—following the acknowledgement, prompted by Virgie, that she is three months pregnant—she is quick to provide assurance that she aims to stay in Virgie’s service. In the face of Virgie’s reluctance at this proposition, rooted in the notion that a wife ought to defer to her husband, Delia wears Virgie down with persistent pleading.

Oropesa turns in a fine performance as Virgie, displaying a formidability that is leavened with tenderness; whenever she is alone in the frame, which is often, she proves more than capable of compelling attention with countenance and gesture. De Leon, who initially essays her role as a kind of comic foil to Virgie, with an almost bovine naïveté, succeeds in making of Delia a figure of tragedy, heartrending and horrifying.

What is particularly striking about Mrs. is its penchant for meandering in and around a range of interiors—of houses, of restaurants, of a barangay hall—and dwelling at length on the mundane actions and interactions that its characters perform there. These mundanities point to well-established, and, at times, tedious routines in which men are, for the most part, spectral presences with varying degrees of influence. Virgie and Glenda rehearse longstanding resentments arising from Glenda’s waywardness, financial and otherwise, and Virgie’s stubbornness. Virgie and Marina squabble, over the telephone and in person, about Marina’s seeming deficiency of discernment in her choices: of partner, the layabout Benjo (Arvic Tan); of religion, by joining a cult; and even of how best to treat the ailing Justin, the “imported” cat that is beloved by Josel, Marina’s young daughter. Jenny, who resides in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two children, tries to coax her mother to join her permanently, as an immigrant, during one of their video chats. Virgie visits her friend Agnes (Anita Linda), an elderly activist who has also lost family members to state-sanctioned violence, to check on Agnes’s health and to exchange news. Virgie and Delia carry out household chores—for instance, watering the plants, sweeping the yard, looking after the pets, and preparing meals.

Even as Mrs. runs the risk of narrative unwieldiness, the film insists on the immersive moment, rather than the propulsive event, and this is what constitutes its achievement. With its sustained, painstaking focus on how its characters go about the dailiness of their existence—the use of lingering close-up shots to highlight the smallest flickers of thought and feeling is notable in this regard—the film renders anew the feminist slogan, “The personal is political.” It challenges viewers to reevaluate the intertwined concepts of “domesticity” and “femininity”, and their associated tensions and contradictions, as they play out, are negotiated with, or are resisted in the fluid, contentious realm of quotidian lived experience. How do institutions like marriage reinforce and perpetuate prevailing relations of power, especially in terms of gender and class? How does state repression manifest itself within and affect the private sphere, and how can this sphere be re-imagined as an arena for broader struggles? How can women establish networks of support between one another that circumvent, slip past, or subvert—however limitedly and fleetingly—the social mechanisms that seek to surveil and control their bodies, their homes, and their lives?

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Posted by on 17 April 2017 in Film Review



The Exacting Forest and the Forgivable Man in Bagane Fiola’s Baboy Halas (2016)

The Exacting Forest and the Forgivable Man in Bagane Fiola’s Baboy Halas (2016)[i]

Emerald Flaviano

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers.

Baboy Halas: Wailings in the Forest (2016), Bagane Fiola’s second film, is the narratively spare imagination of a life in an unsullied earth. Centering on the story of Mampog the boar hunter, the film attempts to find out how a life that relies so much on the natural world is possible.

A landscape of the leafy and befogged heights of the mountains of Davao backdrops the film’s title card. To the urban audience, the forest is fearsome and threatening even in its flattened form. The forest in profile—a landscape—immediately introduces the engulfing Other of Mampog and the rest of the Matigsalug people. Inside the seemingly impenetrable thicket, the forest is revealed in its claustrophobic glory. Raphael Meting and Mark Limbaga’s camera cuts its own path in the forest, following Mampog’s hunts through dense foliage, and the thick undergrowth beneath which hide treacherously slippery rocks. The skillful handling of the camera imagines an ordered world and makes us believe that Mampog’s purposeful meandering through a thick, claustrophobic forest can be followed through a navigable, albeit alien, space.

WITF_Still 4Mampog hunting. (Still photo credits to Origane Films)

This ordering mirrors the Matigsalug people’s attempts to negotiate with their wild home: ancient forest dwellers are appeased and cajoled, a hooting owl is considered a bad omen, and a white pig is a disturbance in the order of things. For the forest is the only source of Mampog’s family’s sustenance. Wild pigs are hunted, freshwater fish and toads are trapped in streams, and wild crops are foraged, but in no other way will the natural world be bent to human needs and desires. Everything is appealed to the forest dwellers, animals (the dog Bugtong, the hooting alimokon (wild pigeon)), and inanimate substances (the fire). In the most remarked upon scene of Baboy Halas, Mampog lights a small fire to warm a cold night inside a cave, keeping his end of a “dialogue” with the Cave Dweller. As the audience is glued to the hunter’s struggle for fire, we are also reminded how negligible human existence is in the riot of life in the forest: “It is much to ask, but do keep us alive,” Mampog pleads to the cold blackness of the cave.

WITF_Still 10Mampog trying to light a fire. (Still photo credits to Origane Films)

This smallness is somewhat amplified in Baboy Halas’ unidimensional characters: there is nothing much that we know about how Mampog thinks about their way of life, or how his wives think about the family’s constant struggle for food. Mampog’s younger wife looks off into the distance, apparently deep in thought about the nightmare explaining the cause of her husband’s recently disturbed behavior, but these thoughts are up for anyone to guess. This denial of revelation can be read, on the one hand, as signifying an ethical decision to maintain a respectful distance between filmmaker and subjects. On the other hand, it also asks us to connect with Mampog on a different level. Clearly, Mampog and his people do not struggle with the forest to live, but they negotiate in a reciprocal relationship. Mampog’s transformation into a boar can be read, among other things, as settling scores—the hunter pays for his hunt by becoming the hunted. This need for equilibrium is echoed in the formal laws of the Matigsalug, as revealed by the settling of dispute between two communities. Brass gongs and horses are exchanged over civil discourse, tobacco, and brew.

To an outsider, Baboy Halas feels like a documentary exposition of the everyday life of the Matigsalug. Isolating the Matigsalug from the urban lowlands, the film conceives of a people who live peacefully in an unsullied earth, with no modern clothes and tools, reliant entirely on what the forest provides. Yet this isolation can be anything but literally real. Baboy Halas is set in Sitio Maharlika, Barangay Baganihan, Marilog District in Davao City.[ii] Baganihan is known for its cold climate, and is a familiar haunt for Davaoeños seeking to escape the heat and bustle of the city. This imagined isolation in Baboy Halas gathers special significance, a year after reports of harassment and killing of Lumads in Mindanao broke national news in August to October 2015. Mampog and his family live undisturbed in forests where the Matigsalug have been living for generations, belying the systematic and concerted efforts of the state and mining capital to terrorize communities for their ancestral lands. But Fiola chooses not to foreground this and instead presents the Matigsalug as a community in its own, not necessarily almost always defined by their subjection; in an interview with Davao Today he reveals that the film’s narrative was largely drawn from the stories the Matigsalug told him.[iii] Though these stories are largely about privation and want, the Matigsalug are nevertheless active agents in their lives—in their negotiation with an indifferent natural world, in settling community disputes, in choosing to stay in the mountains and refuse the allure of the plains. The Matigsalug themselves act out their stories, and the uneven performances—some were indifferent, while some were engaged (as with the expansive Du)—assert each nonprofessional actor’s own understanding of his/her participation in a film representing their way of life.

WITF_Still 9Du wooing another man’s wife. (Still photo credits to Origane Films)

In a sense, the white domesticated pig that Mampog shoots down stands for the tamable life that the lowlands offer. Feeding a family would hypothetically be easier as opportunities to work for a living in the bayan are far more reliable than the fruits of a hunt. Faced with a choice, Mampog does what he has always done and “kills” the white pig, desperate for meat for his family. He consequently loses his grip on reality: the white pig (if there ever really was one) is still alive and well, but visible only to him; the white pig transforms into a mysterious white figure (a forest dweller?); and he cuts down men who had eaten the pig roasted. Mampog has fallen out of favor with the forest, which then denies him meaning. Only his metamorphosis will reconcile—indeed, literally reincorporate—Mampog again with the forest.

[i] A previous version of this review was edited for factual accuracy.

[ii] Capistrano, Zea Io Ming C. “‘Baboy Halas’: Davao’s indie film heads to Netherlands film fest.” 8 January 2017.

[iii] Capistrano 8 January 2017.

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Posted by on 16 April 2017 in Film Review, Philippine Film


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Long Walk to Peace

Skilty Labastilla

The penultimate scene of Women of the Weeping River (Sheron Dayoc, 2016) finds the protagonist, a young woman named Satra, heading towards the other side of the river in her remote village in Sulu, her face gripped with a sense of purpose and urgency but her gait betraying a tinge of wariness as she moves amidst the brambles in the woods. Her family is embroiled in a bitter feud with a rival family, borne out of a land dispute, that has cost dear lives from both sides, and Satra is intent on ending the cycle on her own, against the wishes of the men in her family who believe that their maratabat (family honor and prestige) is at stake, and that when life from one side is taken, any retaliation less than taking life from the other side is tantamount to showing weakness.

Unbeknownst to her, the person she intends to talk to, Shadiya, is doing the exact same thing. Shadiya previously confronted Satra when her son was killed by the latter’s brothers as revenge for the death of Satra’s husband. She told Satra then that she does not wish for anyone to carry the pain that she feels, but that her family has no plans on letting go of the piece of land both families are fighting for.

When both women finally meet towards the end of the film, they first warily size each other up, not knowing what the other will say or do, then they stare at each other wordlessly for a good half-minute, their eyes saying everything they needed to say.

The scene then cuts to the film’s final scene: of several soldiers lying dead in the mud and in their truck, the rain washing over their bodies, having just been ambushed by enemies.

It is but fitting that these two scenes come at the very end of the movie – which on the surface is about the repercussions of rido (blood feud) on the families involved – as they reflect the intricacies of present-day Muslim Mindanao sociopolitical realities, and connote that although there is a sliver of hope in ending cycles of inter-clan violence by recognizing the power of human agency, particularly of women, who are even more marginalized in Muslim society, there is still the matter of larger structural issues that need to be dealt with.

Mindanao, particularly Muslim Mindanao, has for the longest time been at the margins of the Philippine nation-state. Decades of political and economic exclusion brought chronic poverty and disenfranchisement, and the weak state gave rise to local elite families who can readily challenge weak authority and control to, for instance, source firearms extra-legally and build private armies, as well as capture government resources for their own selfish needs.

WWR home

Revenge killings, certainly, are not atypical in any small-scale society where family and kinship ties, instead of the state, are the main sources of authority. As Wilfredo Magno Torres III points out in Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao (2007), in societies where the state is weak, decision-making and enforcement become more decentralized and the provision of security is based mainly on self-help. In the same volume, Gerard Rixhon argued that the turbulent history of Sulu such as numerous military occupations and incursions from foreign powers, its (forced) inclusion into Philippine  territory, “divisive politics, widespread corruption, inadequate justice system, and government neglect” have led the Tausug to resort to a private form of justice called mamauli (revenge).

The film effectively shows this weak hold of the state on families by emphasizing the remoteness of the dwelling of Satra and her family from the town center, with them transporting what few farm produce they have on two baskets slung on a cow and walking for hours to the poblacion, where they still need to plead with traders to give them a fair price. When the land dispute between Satra’s family and the Ismaels explode into a bloody encounter where Satra’s husband is killed, the decision whether or not to exact mamauli falls on the men in the family, particularly on Mustafa, the family patriarch, a bearer of a Tausug culture where traditional values of bravery and masculinity are highly prized. It does not take long before the vengeance killings transpire, and this time the lives of two young boys from both sides are tragically cut short.

WWR river

As the men in the family prepare for more bloodshed by selling treasured family heirlooms to acquire more long arms and Satra’s youngest brother gets trained in shooting a rifle, the deeply troubled Satra consults her mother, Nuryama, in a lovely quiet scene where the two women sit by a clearing in the woods surrounded by wild yellow daisies. Satra, tired of her life-long acquiescence to the men in her life (her father and brothers), asks Nuryama if there is something either of them can do to finally put an end to the senseless cycle of violence they find themselves in. Nuryama, having lived her whole life in the shadow of her husband, naturally expresses hesitation, telling Satra that whatever the two of them decide to do would mean disobeying Mustafa. This scene obviously presages the “staredown” scene I described earlier, when Satra finally finds the courage to defy her father for fear of losing even more loved ones.

WWR daisies

The fact that the film does not conclude with a pat, optimistic ending is testament to Dayoc’s keen understanding of the Muslim Mindanao context. In 2015, he made the documentary The Crescent Rising, which highlights the narratives of men and women caught in the quagmire of war and poverty in Muslim Mindanao, and posits that there are no victors in war. Even in making viewers empathize with marginalized Tausug families through Women of the Weeping River, Dayoc does not glorify them either. In confronting viewers with that stark parting scene of military soldiers lying lifeless in the rain and mud, he also reminds everyone that there is no single solution to violence, be they inter-clan or inter-ethnic. Even if families realize the futility of the never-ending feuds; even if men and women can find solutions on their own or with the help of mediators; and even if traditional values of maratabat, of masculinity, and of bravery will eventually be harnessed for the greater good and not for familial one-upmanship, the state still has supreme responsibility for the welfare of the long-suffering Moro groups.

The forms that this state responsibility – for long-lasting peace and equitable development – will take are obviously varied and multi-pronged, and should involve every group that has a stake. The enactment and implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (the film shows a scene where Satra witnesses a rally of mostly women and children Muslims in the town center chanting for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law) will be a long drawn-out process but, in the meantime, different modes of local participatory development engagements go a long way in easing the region’s poor and marginalized out of their suffering.

WWR rally

Women of the Weeping River is outstanding not only because of Dayoc’s judicious handling of relevant themes (he also wrote the script) but even more so because of his exceptional grasp of film language, particularly in trusting that the scenes will work more effectively with minimal musical score, and by letting the camera patiently capture the characters’ inner turmoil through intelligent mise-en-scène and symbolic imagery. It helps that the film’s actors, mostly amateur, all deliver superb lived-in portrayals, particularly newcomer Laila Ulao as Satra.

With just four feature-length films under his belt (the other two are Halaw, 2010; and Bukod Kang Pinagpala, 2015), Dayoc is quickly emerging as one of the country’s most relevant and perceptive filmmakers. As regional films continue to make their mark in Philippine cinema, I’m positive his name can only shine brighter.

(All photos are taken from the film’s screening copy.)



Rixhon, G. (2007) ‘Tausug and Corsican Clan Feuding: A Comparative Study’, Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao. Makati City: The Asia Foundation, pp. 304-324.

Torres III, W.M. (2007) ‘Introduction’, Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao. Makati City: The Asia Foundation, pp. 11-35.

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Posted by on 11 April 2017 in Film Review