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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

 

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

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The Young Critics Circle Film Desk invites everyone to its 29th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2019.

The ceremony will be held 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.

This event is open to the public and is supported by the University of the Philippines-Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts.

BEST FILM
Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang, directed and produced by Jewel Maranan

BEST PERFORMANCE
Nadine Lustre, Never Not Love You

BEST SCREENPLAY
Masla A Papanok (Gutierrez Mangansakan II)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN EDITING
Call Her Ganda (Victoria Chalk)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY AND VISUAL DESIGN
Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang (cinematography: Jewel Maranan)

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND AND AURAL ORCHESTRATION
Never Not Love You (music: Len Calvo; sound design: Jason Conanan and Kat Salinas)

BEST FIRST FEATURE
Mamang (Denise O’Hara)
Mamu; And a Mother Too (Rod Singh)
Ang Pangarap Kong Holdap (Marius Talampas)

 

 

 
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Posted by on 12 August 2019 in Uncategorized

 

The 28th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2017

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The Young Critics Circle Film Desk held its 28th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2017 last 16 August 2018 (Thursday), 4:00 PM at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

Dr. Jazmin B. Llana, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University-Manila, was the keynote speaker. Dean Llana is also Chair of the Research TWG of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Vice President of Performance Studies international (PSi).

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

To get a copy of the citations catalogue, please click on this link: YCC complete 2018 081518

Photos

(All photos taken by Lea Marie Diño of Vargas Museum)

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The trophies.

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YCC members Skilty Labastilla and Em Flaviano host the ceremony.

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YCC chairperson Lisa Ito-Tapang delivers her opening message and introduces the keynote speaker, Dr. Jazmin Llana of the De La Salle University-Manila.

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Dr. Jazmin Llana delivers her keynote speech.

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Skilty Labastilla reads the citations for Best First Feature.

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Best First Feature award recipients Thop Nazareno (Kiko Boksingero), Rae Red (co-director with Fatrick Tabada, Si Chedeng at Si Apple), and James Robin Mayo (The Chanters) pose with their trophies.

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James Robin Mayo gives a speech.

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Rae Red gives a speech.

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Thop Nazareno gives a speech.

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YCC member Christian Benitez reads the citations for Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design.

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Elora Espanto and Joseph Israel Laban representing Marielle Hizon and TM Malones, respectively, pose with Benitez with Hizon’s and Malones’ trophies for Best Achievement in Cinematography and Visual Design for Baconaua.

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Shireen Seno (co-editor with John Torres) poses with their trophy for Best Achievement in Editing for Nervous Translation.

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Seno delivers a speech.

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YCC member Aris Atienza reads the citations for Best Achievement in Sound and Aural Orchestration.

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Mikko Quizon (sound design) and Itos Ledesma (music), awardees of Best Achievement in Sound and Aural Orchestration for Nervous Translation, pose with Atienza.

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Quizon gives a speech.

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Ledesma gives a speech.

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Ledesma performs “For a Beautiful Human Life” from Nervous Translation.

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YCC member Jaime Salazar reads the citations for Best Screenplay.

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John Paul Bedia and Andrian Legaspi pose with their trophies for Best Screenplay for The Chanters.

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Legaspi gives a speech.

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Bedia gives a speech.

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YCC member J Pilapil Jacobo reads the citations for Best Performance.

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Anthony Falcon poses with his trophy for Best Performance as Amanda in Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko.

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Falcon gives a speech.

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YCC chairperson Lisa Ito-Tapang reads the citations for Best Film of 2017.

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Joseph Israel Laban with his trophy for Best Film for Baconaua, with Ito-Tapang.

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Laban gives a speech.

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Incoming YCC chairperson Em Flaviano introduces the current membership of YCC and welcomes new YCC member, Tito R. Quiling Jr.

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The awardees and nominees pose with the YCC.

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After the program, Falcon chats with Jacobo.

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(L-R) Skilty Labastilla, J Pilapil Jacobo, Anthony Falcon, Tessa Guazon, and Patrick Flores.

 
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Posted by on 20 August 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Si Chedeng at si Apple (2017): Surfacing

Skilty C. Labastilla

 

Si Chedeng at si Apple, the first feature of Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada, is a rambunctious romp that follows two ladies taking a road trip of emancipation as they flee from the law, yes, but more from the shackles of patriarchy.

Chedeng (Gloria Diaz), a closet lesbian mother living unhappily in Manila, decides to go to Cebu Province to find the one that got away after her husband dies. She leaves behind three grown sons and takes with her her simple-minded best friend Apple (Elizabeth Oropesa), who also has a reason to flee the capital. You see, Apple has suffered years of physical and emotional abuse by her live-in partner. In one of these episodes of abuse, she kills her lover in an act of self-defense, and she and Chedeng conspire to dispose of the body, except for the severed head, which Apple believes should be carried, according to Santa Muerte tradition, to prevent the possibility of her wicked lover’s reincarnation. What ensues is 80 minutes of almost non-stop hilarity as the women travel by boat, then by bus, to track Lydia, Chedeng’s long-lost love in rural Cebu, all the while carrying a human head in a Louis Vuitton handbag.

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Still photo courtesy of Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada

If Tabada took inspiration from the American road comedy Little Miss Sunshine in co-writing last year’s hysterical Patay Na si Hesus, he looked to an even more iconic American film, Thelma and Louise, for inspiration in coming up with Si Chedeng at si Apple. Both films center on two female best friends who are either abused by their male partners or are generally unsatisfied with their lives, find themselves on the run from authorities, hook up with young studs along the way, and realize in the end that the few years they have left in the world are better spent pursuing their heart’s desires rather than kowtowing to society’s expectations of women.

Si Chedeng at si Apple, however, is far from being a Hollywood copycat as it transcends its source material with a distinct Pinoy, particularly Cebuano, humor. Buoyed by the delicious performances of screen veterans Elizabeth Oropesa and Gloria Diaz, the film is deeply, tenaciously, bravely feminist. It has the audacity to feature not just two women as the key protagonists, but two elderly women at that! Making one of the lead characters a lesbian searching for the love of her life is a conscious act of rejection of heteronormative romance so commonly produced and consumed in these parts. Tabada is also wise to partner with a female filmmaker, Rae Red, in directing his story, as the film surely benefited from her perspective.

When future cultural commentators look back to today, they will note the rise of the #MeToo and #BabaeAko movements, and the Chedeng filmmakers should be proud of coming up with a film that, even if it pre-dates these cultural movements, perfectly captures the sentiments of the new generation regarding the evil of sexual abuse and harassment of women, as well as the beauty of respecting different sexualities and identities.

 
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Posted by on 15 August 2018 in Uncategorized

 

God BLISS Our Home (2017): Tapatan

Aristotle J. Atienza

 

May halina ang katapatan ng dokumentaryong God BLISS Our Home ni Nawruz Paguidopon. Maaaring inaasahan kung suliraning madalas na hinaharap ng anyo ang pagiging makatotohanan (kaya ba’t madulas at mailap), pero hindi laging inaasahan ang katipiran kung paano nito ibinabahagi at ipinamamahagi ang karanasan ng buhay, lalo pa’t sariling talambuhay ang nakikitang isinasalaysay. Maaasahan ang mga naririyan nang makabagong teknolohiya ng pang-araw-araw na lumihis sa nakasanayang pamamaraan upang maipamalas sa manonood hindi ang inaakalang kaalwalan ng buhay, na karaniwang kalat na kalat nang palabas na gawa ng mga ganitong kagamitan, kundi pa ang kabiguan mula sa mga ipinakikita’t ipinaririnig sa pelikula, bagay na makikitang kalimitan namang inilalarawan sa ordinaryong dokumentaryo. Narito sa humaling sa katapatan ng katipiran at kawalan ang pakikipagbunong haharapin sa God BLISS Our Home.

Tulad ng nasulyapan na sa kaniyang pelikulang A Journey to Haifa (2014), na kabilang sa mga dokumentaryong ipinalabas sa Cine Totoo: Philippine International Documentary Film Festival ng GMA News TV, maglalakbay muli ang dokumentarista, kukunan ang sariling bitbit ang mga maaasahang kamerang GoPro, DLSR, handycam (kasama na ang selfie stick). Gaya ng praktis ng pagmamatyag sa mga instrumento ng pagkuha, masasaksihan sa pribadong buhay ng lumikha ang pagnanasang sagutan ang suliraning tagapagtakda ng kaisahan ng dokumentaryo – ang paghahanap ng kaginhawahan sa buhay. Sa ganitong paraan nagiging totoo ang pelikula lalo na’t inilulugar ang kalidad ng mga kuha (ang kakayahan ng liit at gaan ng kamera) sa mga pamilyar na kuwadro ng mga pang-araw-araw. Ang katapatan ay nasa antas ng pagiging hayag ng mga pamamaraang kinakasangkapan pero hindi nakaaabot upang magsilbing gabay mismo para maunawaan ang halaga ng pagmamalay sa nililikhang katapatan. Ang dalhin ang manonood sa mga planadong paghuli sa iba’t ibang sitwasyong pinapasukan ng personal na buhay ang nagagawa ng kaniyang pagkamalay, ang takdaan ang mga nilikhang aksidente ng bigat ng katotohanang tunay na nangyari ang nasaksihan sapagkat naroon siya. Pero mapagkunwari pa rin, dahil nakaraan na ang inilalantad nakapanliligaw maging ang paggabay ng pumapaimbabaw na maramdaming tinig ng kasalukuyan na inilalangkap sa hinaing at hinanakit na nararanasan. Hahanapin mo ang balintuna, na kahit paano’y nakapagpapangiti, pero upang makuha lamang ang suspetsa. Sa huli, sa kabila ng pagtatangkang maging malay, matutuklasan pa rin sa dokumentaryo ang lakas ng pananalig sa katapatan ng kamera, sa paghahari nitong hindi nababali ang sinasabi.

GOD BLISS OUR HOME naw at bliss 2017

Still photo courtesy of Nawruz Paguidopon

Kung may naihihiwalay na sariling buhay ang manlilikha sa kinaugaliang dokumentaryo dahil abalang kumukuha sa buhay nang may buhay, na karaniwang kapuspalad, babad na babad naman ang pelikula sa buhay ng dokumentarista sa kaniyang pagsisikap na magkaroon ng matiwasay na pamumuhay sa Kamaynilaan. Labing-isang taon nang naninirahan si Naw (Nawruz Paguidopon) sa Bliss sa Lunsod Quezon mula nang pumasok at makapagtapos sa Unibersidad ng Pilipinas hanggang sa makahanap ng trabaho rito. Aminadong hindi sapat ang sinusuweldo kaya’t upang mabawasan ang alalahanin sa pinagkakagastusan, pinlanong umupa ng isang buong yunit para mapangupahan sa iba, ang bayad sa pangungupa ng iba ang magiging pambayad niya sa tinitirhan. Pero hindi ito magiging madali dahil kakailanganin niya ng pera upang maisakatuparan ang minimithi, kaya’t magiging pangangalap ng mga pondo itong susuunging paglalakbay ng dokumentaryo. Bukod sa kita at sa pakiusap sa ina na sumusuporta pa rin sa kaniya sa oras ng matinding pangangailangan, sinubukan niyang magbenta ng mga produktong pampaganda mula sa kompanyang paminsan-minsang pinagtatrabahuan, magsugal sa City of Dreams kasama ng kaniyang mga kaibigan, at magpaluwagan sa komunidad na kinabibilangan. Pero wala sa sariling palad ang kaniyang kapalaran, sasamantalahin ng isang malakas na bagyo ang kaniyang mga plano sa buhay kaya’t sa alok ng magulang ay mapapauwi na lamang sa probinsyang kinalakihan.

Dapat pansining bagama’t ikinukuwento ng dokumentaryo ang mga pangyayaring naganap sa kaniyang buhay na hindi maipagkakamaling gitnang-uri, tinangkang maiwasan na tawirin ng pelikula, kahit paano, sa abot ng mapagbibigyang kakayahan, na maging pagsasalsal lamang ito ng sarili. Dahil gumagalaw sa pakikipag-ugnayan sa iba pang nakapaligid sa kaniya, madaraanan din ng kaniyang paglalakbay ang iba’t ibang pakikipagpagrelasyon sa makakasalamuhang kapitbahay, kaibigan, kapamilya, kapuso, at kahit maging kababayan. Mababahaginan tayo ng mga pagsusumikap nina Anita at Criselda, mga katulong ni Naw sa paghahanap ng paupahan at pagkakakitaan. Makikisakay sa mga kaibigang tataya sa mas katanggap-tanggap na pasugalan. Makikitira sa ina, ama, kapatid, mga kapamilyang makakasundo at hindi makakasundo batay na rin sa mga desisyong piniling tahakin. Makakapiling ang mga lalaking makahahalubilo sa pagnanasang makahanap ng mapagsasaluhan ng mga pangarap sa buhay. Sa pag-usad ng sari-saring pangyayaring inilahad sa atin ng pelikula, mararamdamang patong-patong ang mga kabiguan, pero hindi upang hindi ito maluwalhating madiskubre ng iba, ang Doc Spirit Award mula sa Docs Port Incheon (2014) ng Timog Korea, na magtatakdang karapat-dapat ngang maisalaysay itong pagdurusa, at hindi ang iba pa.

GOD BLISS OUR HOME anita at naw 2017

Still photo courtesy of Nawruz Paguidopon

Habang naglalakbay kumakapal pang lalo ang mga tala ng buhay sa mga pangyayaring nararanasan ng bansa na isinasangkot sa paglalantad ng sarili. Binuksan niya ang dokumentaryo sa pagpapakilala sa Bliss bilang proyekto ng mga Marcos na nagtangkang harapin noon ang suliranin sa pabahay, na suliraning tinatapatan din naman niya sa kasalukuyan. Pero wala na lamang sa nalulumang gusali ang pag-iral ng mga Marcos dahil tila sinasabing minamana pa rin niya, nila, natin ang krisis na dinadama ngayon ng sarili at ng iba pa. Lalo na’t sa pulidong pagtatahi ni Lawrence Ang, ang editor, sa mga likhang animation at sa mga sinadyang kuhang larawan ng mga pang-araw-araw, nagagawa ng dokumentaryong paglaruan ang katipiran ng hindi kayang kunan o mahirap kunan (pero nakukunan pa rin) at pagtanghalin, sa tulong ng lumanay ng musika ni Diwa De Leon, ang mga pangarap ng kawalan at kabiguang nararanasan din ng iba sa kasalukuyan. Lalakbayin din niya ang iba pang pinunong nangako ng katiwasayan sa bansa sa kaniyang panahon hanggang umabot sa pagtatapos, sa pagnanasang darating ang pagbabago sa isa pang pangako, mula naman ngayon sa paghahalal sa isang bagong pangulo kasabay ng pagpiling lisanin ang kinalakhang kapaligiran matapos ang bagong taon upang ipagpatuloy ang pakikipagsapalaran at pakikipagtunggalian, kasama ng marami pang iba, sa kalunsurang pinipiling maging tahanan, dahil kahit paano ay nakapagpapalaya, kahit hindi pa muna nakapagpapasaya sa kaniya.

Ang katapatan sa dokumentaryong God BLISS Our Home ay nasa kaniyang pagtatapat. Inihaharap sa kamera ang mga kabiguang nararamdaman sa buhay sa paninindigang may kaginhawahang kailangang ipaglaban para sa hinaharap. Pero ang halina ay nasa pagtinging katotohanan na ang katapatan.

 
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Posted by on 15 August 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Kiko Boksingero (2017): Making a Man

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar

 

Following the recent passing away of his mother, Francis “Kiko” Arenas (Noel Comia, Jr.) lives in the care of Diday (Yayo Aguila), his yaya, while Myrna, his aunt, is seeing to arrangements for him to come over to the United States and under her supervision—a task to which Myrna applies herself not entirely with avidity, citing financial difficulties. Grappling with the pain of orphanhood and the dread of leaving his home in Baguio City to reside in a foreign country among relatives with whom he is barely acquainted, Kiko finds an outlet in boxing: unbeknownst to Diday, after classes let out for the day, he departs for the house seemingly abandoned by his estranged father, George (Yul Servo), in order to practice his punches on well-worn equipment that he seeks to keep in good condition. When George makes an unexpected appearance during one of Kiko’s training sessions in the course of putting his house up for sale, Kiko, hungry for familial connection, seeks to slip himself out of Diday’s apron strings and into George’s affections.

Kiko Boksingero (2017), directed by Thop Nazareno, concerns itself with charting how Kiko, at eleven years old, negotiates the arduous transition away from childhood and toward adulthood, primarily in ways that play out on the plane of the quotidian: sleeping, dressing, eating, cooking, shoelace-tying, and walking to and from school, among others, are routine non-events that take on symbolic freight as milestones. The close attention that the film pays to them—at least as much as, if not more than, for instance, the unique event of Kiko’s circumcision—helps to underscore how growing up involves slow, incremental changes of habits and relations rather than sudden transformations. While possessed of a staunch, almost studied, modesty of scale, ambition, and emotion, Boksingero achieves resonance in its broaching of the question of what it means to be and become a man.

The film embarks on an exploration of masculinity mainly in and through the character of George, upon whom Kiko models his future self because of George’s purported aptitude at pugilism. George’s proximity to Manny Pacquiao—George is supposed to have traded occasional blows in the squared circle with the Kibawe-born fighter, who rose out of poverty to carve out a highly decorated and lucrative career in boxing—is crucial to the allure that he acquires in the eyes of his son. The fact that George ultimately proves a disappointment might therefore be read as an incipient critique of the vision of masculinity that Pacquiao, who has parlayed his status as celebrity slugger into various fields, notably politics, represents: on the one hand, wealthy, athletically accomplished, reportedly fun-loving and generous,[1] as well as cisgender and heterosexual; and on the other, acquisitive of power, derelict in duty, and ignorant of history, not to mention bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic. This is a vision neither merely idiosyncratic to Pacquiao nor wholly of his own making, of course—rather, it is nurtured and sustained in the intricate interplay between lives, institutions, and social forces.

KikoBoksingero_Scene

Still photo courtesy of Thop Nazareno

The scenes involving Diday are also instructive, in that they trouble the masculine ideal of self-sufficiency: after all, it is upon her largely unacknowledged physical and emotional labor—her labor as a domestic worker, a point that the film appears, for the most part, to take for granted—that Kiko and George depend in order for them to carry out seemingly autonomous decisions. Kiko prefers to eat hotdogs instead of vegetables, and train with his father rather than going about his usual weekend activities, but it falls to Diday to do the cooking and the prodding awake. For his part, George wants to be able to come and go at will, unsaddled by the responsibility of childcare, leaving it to Diday to look after Kiko whenever it becomes tiresome or inconvenient for George to do himself.

That Boksingero is set in the former American colonial hill station of Baguio—even if rendered in a picturesque manner, effacing the many ills of overdevelopment with which the city has long been plagued—serves as a useful reminder of the American imperialist project to subjugate the Philippines, which boxing, introduced alongside baseball to Filipinos by American soldiers at around the close of the 19th century, is caught up with.[2] The scholar Gerald R. Gems has noted that sports—disseminated through the school system, and by organizations like the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, and the Far Eastern Athletic Association—were used by the Americans to inculcate civilizing values and channel Filipinos’ nationalism into athletic rivalries.[3] Boxing, which came with “opportunities for retaliation” and, compared to other sports, greater largesse for winning, became widely popular, leading to the emergence of renowned fighters, such as the flyweight Francisco Guilledo, better known as Pancho Villa, whose feats in the ring challenged “notions of white privilege and prowess” and defied prevailing racial attitudes, which Gems says emasculated Filipinos.[4] Such fraught history should factor into further efforts to draw out and account for the production, embodiment, and performance of specifically Filipino masculinities.

            [1] Gary Andrew Poole, PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao, the Greatest Pound-for-pound Fighter in the World (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2010), p. 65.

            [2] Gerald R. Gems, “Sport and Colonialism in the Philippines,” The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), p. 48.

            [3] Op. cit., p. 49.

            [4] Op. cit., pp. 50, 61-2.

 
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Posted by on 15 August 2018 in Uncategorized