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Category Archives: Philippine Film

YCC Film Desk to hold citations ceremony Thursday

The Young Critics Circle Film Desk will hand out awards for best achievement in Philippine cinema for 2016 on Thursday, April 27th, 3 pm, at the UP Vargas Museum, Diliman, Quezon City.

The awardees are:

Best Film: Women of the Weeping River, directed by Sheron Dayoc
Best Performance: Laila Ulao, Women of the Weeping River
Best Screenplay: Mrs., Ralston Jover
Best Editing: Women of the Weeping River, Carlo Francisco Manatad
Best Cinematography and Visual Design: Baboy Halas, Raphael Meting and Mark Limbaga (cinematography) and Joel Geolamen (production design)
Best Sound and Aural Orchestration: Ang Tulay ng San Sebastian, Jess Carlos (sound design) and Hiroko Nagai (musical score)
Best First Feature: 2 Cool 2 Be 4gotten, directed by Petersen Vargas; and Malinak Ya Labi, directed by Jose Abdel Langit

 

The ceremony, which is open to the public, is supported by the UP Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA).

 
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Posted by on 26/04/2017 in Philippine Film

 

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Tropical Divine

J Pilapil Jacobo

The contest of wills that ensues between the high priestess Pinailog (Nora Aunor) and her heiress-apparent Dowokan (Barbie Forteza) portrayed in the Kinaray-a film Tuos revisits not only the tension between structure and agency, and the cleave between the archaic and the modern attending the former opposition, but also the irreciprocal terms of kinship that must nevertheless be resolved by female commiseration, precisely because the conditions of rift and the concord that must be agreed upon in spite of the poison are imbricated within the gender of the gift itself.

While the epic past is animated to enquire on the mythic origins of the kept maiden, Tuos only weaves Hiligaynon orature into national cinema to naturalize autochthonous practices of exception which turn women into objects of inalienable exchange so that a community may lay claim to the civility it seeks to establish as historic. The contemporary cannot learn anything from this method of rarification. While folklore must be read as that discursive formation desired by narratives of colonial capital to be obliterated, so that the parties underwriting the potlatch may finally turn to the spell of the fetish, the epic, in this case, is that mode of consciousness that seeks to achieve its own obsolescence. Why the repetition, if silence, and not resonance, is the future of the voice?

Tuos (2)

The paradox of this premise justifies however the visuality of the textile between orature and cinema, as Denise O’Hara and Roderick Cabrido’s Tuos probes into the dilemma of a lineage that may succumb to discontinuing the long duration of its primitive entelechy, through a montage of scenes which concatenate the precarity of the contract between humans and daemons instituted through the perpetual vestality of the “binukot.” If woman must be withheld to assure the polity the sacrosanct secret that protects its insular singularity deep within the montane tropics, then the pact with such archaism can only be defiled through the nubile body of the princess who refuses to be beautiful by opening herself up to ravage. The predisposition to this hymenal rupture is visually designed through diaphanous fabrics: veils, kerchiefs, skirts, nets, curtains finally metonymized through the image of an arachnid who has yet to complete her gossamer web. And yet this does not mean that vestality is superficial, if sheer vestments can make the secret available, particularly when a glance through the textile turns into the scopophiliac gaze; the film is telling us something about the permeable and the interstitial: what the scopic can traverse and how certain instances, albeit rapturous, persuade us to be opaque. Such predicament is cinematic.

Diaphany is that opportunity of concealment. And yet, the translucence affords one to see through, to look out into the world from this privileged anonymity. When Pinailog witnesses Dowokan surrendering her purity to Daupan, she becomes prone herself to the rumor of the sex that has been denied from her millennial ancestry. Her voyeurism articulates the axiom of the violence that befalls her body as the last of the virgins. The spirit of the gift does not dwell in an exception from corporeal experience per se; it distinguishes its reciprocity as disavowal of the carnal knowledge annunciated when the coitus becomes factitious as vision. The binukot must be hidden from sex because she must be distant from the plethora of its plaisances. Furthermore, she cannot be an aspect of such a spectacle; the genital act must remain private, redeemed from sibylline judgment. The sacred and the profane must from each other remain safe. The eye is the most diaphanous of organs; the contemplation of seduction must forever be obscured by the vestal subject. With pleasure threatening to be proximate, she must will all of her diaphanous access to the earthly sensorium to turn into a carapace. The shamaness is supreme potentate of her kin, because her erotic patience is most adamantine.

Nora Aunor portrays the resistivity to damage with so much fortitude, that the moment of her capture can only be devastating; such traumaturgy is less an aftermath than the epicenter of the defiance almost always held with grace by Barbie Forteza. There is antipodal tremor in this duel of acting, with Aunor’s quake choreographically staged in her avian dance to punctuate a wedding rite—a lesson on how dexterously solitude can find its path alongside the rites of romance—and Forteza’s fragility aggravated at her ineptitude to convey the songs of her folk, while her hands cannot wait to snap the strings of her lone lute.

Only the defeat of Eros can repair the hymenal breach; Aunor vanquishes the demon with epic precision! When Forteza finally accedes to the shamanic succession, she understands the gift as a place where the anterior agent gains prescience and precedence. From here, Pinailog descends to the sea to die, as rivers cascade to belong to, where else, but the abyss; and Dowokan proceeds to live, as psyche watching herself think through the millennium, within the cinematheque.

What is the tropical divine but an ultimate contention with erotic duress?

 
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Posted by on 17/04/2017 in Philippine Film

 

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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.” http://davaotoday.com/main/culture-2/entertainment/baboy-halas-davaos-indie-film-heads-to-netherlands-film-fest/. 8 January 2017.

[iii] Capistrano 8 January 2017.

 
 

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

Eli R. Guieb III

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

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

minsan

Ara Mina at Jomari Yllana sa Minsan Pa (2004)

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

Patrick Flores

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

J. Pilapil Jacobo

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

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

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

bakal-boys

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

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

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

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

 
 

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

Eloisa May P. Hernandez

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

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

minsan-pa-02-300-x-225

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

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