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Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko (2017): Luxuriance

J Pilapil Jacobo


The predicament of depicting the lives of Filipina transgender women has been addressed in contemporary Philippine cinema. Films like Isabel Sandoval’s Señorita (2011), Adolf Alix’s Porno (2013), Eduardo Roy, Jr.’s Quick Change (2014), and even Jun Lana’s Die Beautiful (2016), have all dealt with trans as a mode of becoming where the political could be accessed as a rubric of resistance precisely because there remains the trouble of transgender as the difference within difference, or even against it.

Gerardo Calagui’s Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko (Those Long-Haired Nights) (2017) does not exactly pursue the gains that have been earned by our current transgender filmography. There is nothing productive in repeating the tragedy of transgender employment in the flesh trade, and restating the concomitant involvement of the trans figure in the traffic of drugs within an erotics of the neoliberal scheme.

As well, the queerness of cisgender men portraying trans sufferance can only point out certain entitlements in an industry where gender is a topic but whose performative significance is never engaged through conditions of performance. Acting is merely understood as vehicular; one performs to craft a persona, and invent one’s signature of actressing.

mga gabi

Screengrab from Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko‘s screener

Notwithstanding its inability to be conscious of the discourse that is preventing its form to speak through the habits of transgender spectacle, Mga Gabi’s narrative somehow allows trans to articulate the terms of its difficult passage. The long night that stages the seeming disparity of trans lives becomes the duration in which the solidarity of transgender difference can be intimately realized. Perhaps, one can intuit trans time in such a premise.

The form of the vignette must endure violence, as it plays the wound out; and the life of pain that is told within that episode can only be, if it can be precise, the moment of its own restitution. This kind of transit is somehow singularly embodied by Anthony Falcon, whose beauty does not pretend it can resist its own dynamism, after all manner of breakdown. We revel in their irresistibility.

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Posted by on 15 August 2018 in Uncategorized


Micro-burgers, Magic Pens, and Familial Breakdowns: Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation (2017)

Emerald O. Flaviano


For the first few minutes into Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation (2017), a young girl moves through a still house, alone. A string of actions, each strange in itself, constitutes a ritual: at the door, the girl wipes the bottoms of her shoes with a box of tissues; the girl does a Mad Minute of rapid-fire multiplication problems; the girl catches the crackle of static left over the screen of a switched off CRT TV. The climax of this after-school ritual however, centers on the innocuous radio cassette recorder (“component”) stationed at the living room. This device concretizes Yael’s—the young girl—attempts to understand the world around her.

Nervous Translation positions itself in Yael’s perspective, in an original attempt to account for the quiet destruction the unwilling but necessary absence of a family member leaves behind. Yael lives with her mother Val, while her father Dodong works in Riyadh to support the family. She spends her afternoons alone, watching cartoons on TV, doing homework, cooking tiny meals with her toy kitchen. But Yael, a smart and peculiarly perceptive child, is drawn to the component and the tapes her father sends her mother. She’s not supposed to listen to them, but the tapes provide access to a father she has no memory of and to an emotionally distant mother. One day, Tito Ton, Yael’s father’s identical twin, comes to visit and disturbs the relative calm of the household. Troubled but unable to understand why, Yael pins her hopes on the magical Ningen Pen, but a flood brought on by Typhoon Unsang postpones her plan to obtain the costly Pen.

Nervous Translation is not quite a children’s film—shot from the perspective of a child, its preoccupation with revealing a difficult home situation is transparent enough. Yael navigates a world that is mostly populated by adults—Wappy, a classmate, is only as material as a voice heard over the phone, while her unfamiliar cousins hardly talk to her.[1] She picks up things not necessarily because she understands the significance of each word, each act, each look exchanged. Instead, Yael seems to do it on instinct, attuned as she is to subtle shifts of feeling, as one who has had to deal with a mother such as she has.


Yael listens to her father addressing her mother. (Screengrab from Nervous Translation’s screener)

The unhappy Val is a looming figure in Yael’s life, the adult Yael has always immediately looked to. Yael’s impulsive dependence on writing (to fill the still and empty house, to try to give form to as yet inchoate emotions), for instance, is later revealed to be Val’s as well. It’s unclear whether any other family member has helped her, but we are made to understand that Val has been raising her daughter alone. This has been very difficult, not only because Val works while taking care of Yael on her own, but also because she struggles with the physical separation from Dodong. She has a curious relationship with Yael, one that is conspicuously mediated. The tapes provide a map of Val—the 30-minute no-contact rule between Yael and her was suggested by Dodong via one of his tapes. Yael also knows that the tape that has always been in the component—“Val Kong Mahal”—is key to understanding the shape of her mother’s unspoken longing, itself a presence in the house. Yael and Val religiously watch together a soap opera, a family drama that resembles their own. Yael’s attempt to make sense of—to translate—Val takes on new urgency when Yael catches her mother recording her own alien response to her father’s strange reference to Val’s “luto ng Diyos” and when Tito Ton and his family visit.


A soap opera Yael and Val watches together every night. (Screengrab from Nervous Translation’s screener)

Measured and unhurried, shots of mundane background details of a typical—albeit worn—middle-class home lulls us into the still, dozy afternoons only a child’s activity can animate, highlighting Yael’s atypical solitude. A waterlogged ceiling and an ancient air conditioning unit belie the financial challenges the family is facing, supported later by Val’s quiet retort to her rather overbearing sister-in-law Bette: “Marami kasing nahihirapang maghanap ng trabaho dito.” From references on TV news, yellowing newspapers, and peeling campaign posters, Nervous Translation temporalizes the narrative in the immediate post-Marcos transition, implicating the dictatorship in the process. An indictment is clearly there. We see in micro a country reeling from the long-term economic impacts of the large-scale and systematic misuse and thievery of public funds of the Marcos government—what had originally been a stopgap measure (labor exportation) eventually became, by necessity, institutionalized as the inevitable crutch to hold up an economy that has been in perpetual failure.

In the face of this bleak reality, Nervous Translation circles back, dreamlike. A bizarre advertisement for the Ningen Pen (literally “human pen”) triggers a sequence of surreal scenes that reference earlier “real” ones: a man in Ningen Pen costume apologizes repeatedly to his employers, in a performance of Val’s pen scratching sorry’s on a blue notebook over and over again; Val is thrown into the Marikina River by Yael to emerge by the riverbank as the soap opera heroine. A jaunty tune that brings to mind sci-fi kids’ shows increasingly asserts itself, interrupting radio and TV sounds—a weird mix of news of celebrating people in the streets and in Malacañang Palace, heavy rain in Batanes, and White Lady sightings—and the soft aural rhythms of the house.

An autobiographical motive can easily be read behind Nervous Translation—how else can one know with such intimacy the workings of a lonely child’s mind? Who else can insist on the urgency of these attempts at comprehension other than one who understands how moments, barely grasped, endure as jagged memories, to gather significance in the end? Yael and Val and Dodong’s story could have been written otherwise, as countless other OFW families’ are, on TV dramas that promise fidelity to “the true story”. It is all the better that Seno does not, and instead offers a fresh eye—a child’s—to look at a family made dysfunctional by the absent OFW father, skillfully rendering this perspective with earnest originality.

[1] In a rare instance of engagement (but not quite), one cousin, with the brutal frankness characteristic of a child, points out “She looks like a mummy!” The cousin is, of course, referring to the inexplicable bandages Yael sports on both arms.

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Posted by on 15 August 2018 in Uncategorized


Of Technologies, Transcriptions, and Ties that Bind: A Review of The Chanters (2017)

Lisa Ito-Tapang


Culture, tradition and technology are framed as intertwined facets in The Chanters (2017), James Robin Mayo’s directorial debut during last year’s QCinema International Film Festival.

The film is set in the quiet hinterlands of Central Panay in the Visayas: in humble parts where the rumble of the motorcycle resonates far across the fields and where communal gatherings to catch up on soap operas are still a neighborly pastime. Employing the Hiligaynon language, its narrative revolves around the daily routines of the millenial Sarah Mae Navarro (Jally Nae Gilbaliga) and her grandfather, Lolo Ramon Navarro (Romulo Caballero), a farmer and chanter of the Panay Bukidnon Sugidanon epic poem who grapples with the frailties of old age and dementia. Despite their differences, both find themselves rushing against time as the awaited school visit of celebrity Danica Reyes draws near.

On the surface, Sarah Mae and Lolo Ramon are a humorous study in contrasts. The gentle and gracious grandfather is the only surviving chanter of his tribe. Each day, he painstakingly transcribes lines of the ephemeral epic from memory, as its living repository, while maintaining a local school. In contrast, his sassy and smartphone-savvy granddaughter is one among thousands of enamored “Danicanatics”. While she has been introduced to traditional music and dance of the Panay-Bukidnon, Sarah Mae seems more attuned to the filmic appearances and lyrics of her idol’s latest pop song, titled Kiss Me ❤ ❤.

Chanters Still 02

Still photo courtesy of James Robin Mayo

The inter-generational and intra-cultural divide they embody is made tangible across the story by conspicuous technologies of mass communication. The selfie stick is introduced as a novel narrative tool: wielded by Sarah Mae as she traverses dirt roads dreaming of finally meeting Danica in person. The lone and occasionally dysfunctional television is an object around which the community congregates, underscoring not only the distance between the viewing periphery and capital-centric celebrity but also more familial ties operating within the far-flung town. The cellphone enables both connection and disengagement. It presents a distraction from her grandfather’s chant lessons but shortens the distances separating them from others: the staff of the local cultural office and her own mother, employed as an overseas foreign worker. Between the two, Sarah Mae is the digital native at home with the use of gadgets; Lolo Ramon wrestles with pen and paper to get things done.

The characters of Sarah Mae and Lolo Ramon inhabit poles that can veer perilously close to simplification or caricature. The film, however, steers itself away from this dangerous precipice by demonstrating a nuanced sensitivity towards its combination of technological significations, narrative dialogue and visual language.

Chanters Still 09

Still photo courtesy of James Robin Mayo

Technology, for instance, prominently mediates and translates the web of personal and social relationships in The Chanters. As commodities and objects introduced in the cinematic narrative, these channels of communication are signifiers of broader conditions of precarity. These include the translation of cultural tradition into contemporary experience amidst the influx of foreign influences or the economic and affective interface between cultural, rural and, to some extent, migrant labor.

But technology is also employed to enrich the signification of the filmic experience. The Chanters is shot using an aspect ratio of 1:1 and consciously employs this square frame in this cinematic inquiry into traditional culture. The format and color grading strongly evokes the filtered viewing experience of Instagram and other photo-sharing sites: global platforms of dissemination for millions of photos and short videos.

Visually, these formats yield interesting effects when translated into a feature-length work. The compositional centrality and symmetry afforded by the square, for instance, is particularly effective for producing endearing portraits of Sarah Mae and Lolo Ramon as well as conveying the sense and structure of place: from aerial views of the rural interiors to carefully-composed scenes in homes and schools. Semiotically, the frame can also be read as an appropriation of the spatiality implied by mobile technologies: also referencing how their presence can possibly bridge—instead of widening—the gap between traditional and popular culture.

The flux of transcription and transformation are encoded in many picturesque moments across the film. But beneath the idyllic scenery and light-hearted banter are disturbing signs: kitchen fires, a spell of blankness, a sudden disappearance at dusk. This urgency of loss and preciousness of memory is poignantly distilled in one scene, where Sarah Mae chances upon Lolo Ramon inside the school, patiently scribbling forgotten lines on the blackboard. Positioned at opposite corners of the empty room, like bookends, are two turns and faces of tradition: one inscribes as the other erases.

Chanters Still 01

Still photo courtesy of James Robin Mayo

Gilbaliga and Caballero both shine in their respective portrayals of change and its contradictions in this comedy-drama, demonstrating how The Chanters is anything but simplistic or one-sided in its take on tradition and contemporaneity. In his completion of the epic’s documentation, Lolo Ramon reflects on the transience of both epic poetry and pop song, learning to trust the generation ahead. In her transition from volunteer back-up dancer to organizer of an indigenous chant presentation, Sarah Mae’s yearning to belong to the new gives way to a revisiting and holding dear of her roots.

The ties that bind the two go beyond the film itself. The project of propagating the region’s intangible cultural heritage which began some decades ago with scholarly documentation continues to date, and in many forms. For instance, more artists in Panay are initiating projects aiming to popularize the Sugidanon through art exhibitions and public performances. On a larger scale are initiatives to enact and defend non-formal schools of living traditions, which mostly operate in communities of the country’s indigenous peoples and national minorities.

The film demonstrates the possibilities of regional cinema as an expansion and exposition of indigenous knowledge and how it navigates conditions of the contemporary. In such dark times of loss, The Chanters is a work well worth treasuring for its intimate reclaiming of hope.

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Posted by on 14 August 2018 in Uncategorized


Isang Pelikula ng Pulo: Hinggil sa Baconaua (2017) ni Joseph Israel Laban

Christian Jil R. Benitez


Ang pulo ay sityo ng pagkakataon: sapagkat habang ang pulo ang lupang naliligiran ng tubig, ito rin ang kasaganahan ng kasampuan. Sa ganang ito rin, ang pulo ay sityo ng tunggalian: sapagkat masagana nga ang pulo, malimit itong nasa hinagap ng pagpasok at binggit ng pananakop ng tagalabas. Kung kaya malimit na isinasaalamat ang pulo sa pinilakang-tabing mula sa posisyon ng labas papaloob sa pulo, isang direksiyunalidad na isa ring paghuhugpong sa mga makasaysayang pagtatagpo ng temperado at tropiko, moderno at tradisyunal, kung saan malimit na ipinapalabas ang huli bilang napapaamo, kung hindi man ganap na nasusupil, ng una. Sa ganitong paraan malimit na isinasalaysay ng pelikulang pulo ang pagiging kolonya ng sityong ito.

Ngunit sapagkat ang pulo nga ay ang pulo, na hindi lamang lupang naliligiran ng tubig na natutunang mapaglalangan ng imperyo, kung hindi maging ang kasaganahan din ng kasampuan nito, nararapat lamang din na ang pelikulang pulo ay maging palabas din sa kakayanan ng nasabing sityo sa pagtanggi sa labas. Sa ganitong pagkakataon, naidiriin ng pulo ang sarili nito—hindi sa karamihan ng mga ito alinsunod sa kartograpikong palagay ng arkipelago, kundi sa pagiging pulo nga ng pulo: kapuluan.

Ipinapalabas ng Baconaua ang kapuluan ng Marinduque alinsunod sa pagkakataon ng alamat at kasaysayan. Kritikal na simula nito ang pasya ni Divina (Elora Españo) na ideklara na sa wakas ang pagpanaw ng kanyang ama: matapos ang humigit-kumulang tatlong buwan ng paghihintay para sa pagbalik nito mula sa laot, napilitan ang panganay na pakahulugan ang hindi pagbalik ng labi nito bilang ganap na ngang pagkawala nito, upang sa gayon ay matustusan ng makukuha nilang ayuda ang pangangailangan nilang naulilang magkakapatid.

baconaua 1

Screengrab from Baconaua‘s screener.

Kasabay sa materyal na pangangailangang ito ng magkakapatid ay ang maalamat, sapagkat napangangatwiranan sa kanilang pulo ang pagkawala ng mga mangingisda sa laot bilang kagagawan ng bakunawa, ang dambuhalang malaahas na sinasabing kumakain ng buwan at araw, na nagdudulot ng lahò. Pagpapasidhi sa maalamat na katwirang ito nang isang umaga, nataunan ng magkakapatid ang pagpula ng dagat: lumulutang-lutang ang ilampung ilampung mga mansanas, na hindi mawari kung saan nagmula. Gayunpaman, nakatitiyak ang maalamat na katwiran ng pulo: ano pa nga ba ang mga mansanas kung hindi isang pangitain.

Matalino ang Baconaua sapagkat tumatanggi ito mula sa pagkahulog sa peligro ng mistipikasyon ng sityo ng pulo. Sapagkat bagaman mahiwaga ang unang maaaring pag-unawa sa kasaganahan ng mansanas sa dalampasigan, agaran ding iginigiya ang pelikula sa tiyak na kasaysayan: ang mga lumulutang na mansanas ay hindi lamang mansanas, kung hindi ang kontemporanyong mansanas, taglay ang tandang tatak bilang produkto—at kung gayon, hindi lamang basta likas o maalamat, kung hindi makamundo rin, sapagkat matalik sa makinaryang kapital. Hindi kung gayon nakapagtataka na ang unang isip ng magkakapatid, sa pagkakita ng mga ito, ay sa praktikalidad: sapagkat maaari nilang maihanda ang mga ito sa pagdaraos ng pamamaalam sa kanilang pumanaw na ama, agad silang namulot ng mga tubig-alat na mansanas.

Sa ganitong pagpapaalala sa pagiging makamundo rin ng pulo lumalalim ang pelikula, sapagkat idiniriin nito ang sari-sariling buhay ng mga taga-pulo, alinsabay sa mga pangyayaring panlabas at pangkolektibo. Nasa pagitan ng lahat ang tatlong naulilang magkakapatid, na sapagkat sumasapit nang lahat sa paglalabintaon ay nagsasapulo bilang mga kani-kanilang tao, nakararanas ng kanya-kanyang tunggalian at pagkakataon: si Divina, na biglang kinailangang maging magulang para sa mga naulilang kapatid; si Dian (Therese Malvar), na nagsisimulang makilala ang kanyang sariling katawan, sa kanyang pakikitipan sa dating kasintahan ng kanyang ate; at si Dino (JM Salvado), na sa kanyang pagtanggi sa naging pagtanggap na lamang ng kanyang mga nakatatandang kapatid na pumanaw na nga ang kanilang ama ay pinipiling maglagalag na lamang maghapon sa pulo.

baconaua 2

Screengrab from Baconaua‘s screener.

Bagaman mistulang kani-kanilang pulo ng mga salaysay na ito, isinasaalamat ang mga ito ng pelikula, sa paglalapat ng lahat sa iisang banghay. Sa paglalagalag ni Dino sa dalampasigan, natagpuan niya ang isang sugatang banyaga; kasabay nito, sa ibang bahagi ng pulo, pinaghahanap ng mga patrolyang militar ang isang tagalabas na hinihilang nagmula sa isang tumaob na barko. At bagaman nagtagpo ang bata at ang pangkat na patrolya sa pusod na kagubatan ng pulo, nagawang maitago ng una ang kinaibigang tagalabas sa kamalig, pinakain ito at sinubukang bigyang-lunas.

Ang pagkaparoon ng tagalabas na tumutunggali sa kalooban ng pulo ang nagsasakasaysayan sa maalamat: sapagkat ang mga lumulutang na mansanas ay hindi lamang produktong mansanas, kung hindi mga mansanas na pinagsisidlan ng narkotiko. Ang kababalaghan kung gayon ng pulang dagat ay napasisidhi, sapagkat hindi na lamang ito naipalalabas alinsunod sa salaysay ng maalamat na pag-unawa, kung hindi maging ng makasaysayang katwiran—na maaari lamang maging isang metonimiya para sa kontemporanyong kapuluang Pilipinas.
Sapagkat kung paaanong inuunawa ng pulo ng pelikula ang pagkaanod ng mga mansanas sa dalampasigan nito bilang pangitain, sa ganitong paraan din maaaring madalumat ang kritikalidad ng Baconaua bilang kontemporanyong pelikula: isang pagpapakitang pagsusuri din sa kasalukuyang suliranin ng imperyal na pamumuno.

baconaua 3

Screengrab from Baconaua‘s screener.

Ngunit sapagkat matalisik sa nasabing pagsusuri ang pelikula, tumatanggi ito sa pagsasapayak sa metonimiya ng pulo ng pelikula at daigdig ng manonood: hindi lamang nito nilalalang ang maalamat na bakunawa sa pelikula bilang sisidlan ng kaisipang pangkasaysayan para sa palabas para sa tagalabas na manonood. Sapagkat sa huli, idiniriin ng pelikula ang pagiging hindi matitiyak ng tunggalian sa pagitan ng alamat at ng kasaysayan: bagaman isinalin ng pelikula ang maalamat na palaisipan bilang makasaysayang suliranin ng kontemporanyo, bumabaling pa rin ang palabas sa maalamat na pag-unawa: sa kabila ng paniniwalang magiging tugon na sana sa mga suliraning materyal nilang magkakapatid ang mga naipon niyan mula sa mga mansanas, isinauli ang lahat ng mga ito ni Divina sa karagatan, bilang pagpapaumanhin na rin sa hiwaga nitong maaari, o maaaring hindi, na may kinalaman sa kinahinatnan nilang magkakapatid.

Ang hindi katiyakang ito, sa sampulong bisa ng pelikula, ang maaaring magtulak sa palaisipan palabas ng pulo ng Baconaua tungong kontemporanyong mundo sa kung paano ito nakikilala sa kasalukuyan: ano nga ba ang mga nangyayaring ito (at nangyayaring ito sa atin), at bakit? Sa isang kritikal na sandali, nagiging matalik ang pulo ng palabas at ang pulo ng pinalalabasang sinehan, na makapagdadalumat kung bakit asul ang kulay ng mabagal na pinilakang-tabing: sapagkat nasa iisang pulo lamang pala ang pinanonood at ang manonood, at sa kapuluang ito, kapwa sila naliligiran ng tubig, kung hindi pa man sumisisid na sa pinakapusod ng karagatang maalamat at makasaysayan. Sapagkat sa sampulong gana nito, ang Baconaua ay isang pelikula ng pulo, na hindi lamang sityo ng tunggalian, kung hindi sa kapuluan pa’y ng pagkakataon.

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Posted by on 14 August 2018 in Uncategorized


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

ycc 2018 cover 080918

The Young Critics Circle Film Desk invites everyone to its 28th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2017.

The ceremony will be held on 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, is 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 open to the public and is supported by the University of the Philippines-Diliman Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts.


Baconaua, directed by Joseph Israel Laban (Nicole Runi, Sara Santiago, Ferdinand Lapuz, Derick Cabrido, producers)

Anthony Falcon, Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko

The Chanters (John Paul Bedia and Andrian Legaspi)

Nervous Translation (Shireen Seno and John Torres)

Baconaua (cinematography: TM Malones; production design: Marielle Hizon)

Nervous Translation (music: Itos Ledesma; sound design: Mikko Quizon)

Kiko Boksingero (Thop Nazareno)
Si Chedeng at si Apple (Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada)
The Chanters (James Robin Mayo)

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Posted by on 14 August 2018 in Uncategorized


The 27th Annual Circle Citations for Distinguished Achievement in Film for 2016


2016_YCC program cover


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Posted by on 29 April 2017 in Uncategorized


Northern Nocturne: Critique of “Malinak Ya Labi”

J. Pilapil Jacobo

If there is any inflection of cinema that can grasp the truth of the tropics, no other perspective can lay claim to the apprehension but a film from the region, or from a province or district that essays the particularity of filmmaking from a singular location. What else can intuit the idiom of a zone but a vernacular audition of the world that protects the rapture of place and at the same time incites the rhapsodic instance to vanish at the time of enravishment?

Jose Abdel Langit’s “Malinak Ya Labi” is the first Pangasinan narrative film, and it may also be the first contemporary Filipino motion picture to have understood what it means to be situated in the equatorial tropics, or at least from the latitude of, let’s say, Binobolinao. And yet, while the truth that is disclosed as folk may be misconstrued as always already torrid, the region of the ravage is demonstrated as something beyond the sweetness of summer or the melancholy of monsoon. The moment of the tropic is night. And its site is northern.

If the Kapampangan poetic of “Ari: My Life With A King” is premised on “Atin Cu Pung Singsing,” Langit’s “Malinak Ya Labi” affirms that the regional film can only ground its vision on folk tonality and the dissonances that can be heard as it runs contrapuntally along the syncopations of the modern.

Some translations of the condition of “linak” may gesture toward a state of “peacefulness,” but the film insists on a more fundamental supplement to music: “silence.” However, unlike Adolf Alix’s “Kalayaan,” where the interval colonizes the auditory landscape until cinema itself is aurally fixated with its own chiasmic duress, “Malinak Ya Labi” accepts silence as a principle of sound itself, where voice, rhythm, noise are habituated to imagine a sense of ambience, answer what surrounds the tropical world, and open up the discourse of the tropical time that eviscerates what is commonplace in a scopophiliac relation to the tropical image.

Visuality is further abducted by the contiguity that is demanded as soon as the “linak” turns opaque, into “labi”; the negative is attracted to itself, and yet the coupling does not accumulate into absence. “Malinak Ya Labi” demarcates its region of ravage as a northern nocturne, in the silence of salt, through the fioriture of ferment. How does a saltflower bloom under the Pangasinan moon?

As in “Ari,” we don’t get to hear the song of the folk till the end, but “Malinak” rigorously frames the sonorous sensibility of the film. The rubric of the “silent night” transposes itself through the various tonal themes framing episodes of the narrative. The most dramatic of these musical incarnations is an operatic piece scored in the middle of a riot one carnival night. I do not have access to the Pangasinan lyric right now (that would enable me to engage the music philologically), but the translation of the aria sung by a spinto refers to “night” conceiving “daylight”; a “star” as a “smile of the dark”; and ultimately, the lunar “heart” eclipsing into its balsamic “night.” What logic of the trope would subsume solarity under all things umbral? The afternoon in the southern manor as axiomatic moment of the languorous dalliance no longer constitutes the pivot of the tropic day. From a promontory along the narrowest northern strait,”Malinak Ya Labi” celebrates the gibbous event!


Althea Vega in a scene from “Malinak Ya Labi”

Pangasinan tropicality supervenes the possibility of romance and of course an erotic with the premise of “bagat,” the blood sacrifice that is offered to an edifice so that the spirits won’t imperil the integrity of building. The source of the blood is decidedly animal, but “Malinak Ya Labi” complicates the matter by telling a story of how a child was stolen on the eve of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and whose body was left as “bagat” to inaugurate a bridge connecting a quaint isle and the Pangasinan mainland. The gift is itself poison; and the time given in exchange for the toxin can no longer deceive borrowed life. Silent is the northern night, and the tropical truth it can only reveal is terminal. The moon waxes red for the death of an innocent. Welcome to the necrotropics!

Lorenzo Fernandez Cosgaya’s “Diccionario Pangasinan-Español” (1865) defines “bagat” as “sacrificio, ofrenda, convite.” The colonial lexicon carries the divinity of the present in the Latin senses of “sacrificus” (from sacer: holy) and “offere” (to God) as dimensions of the Pangasinan gift that is “bagat,” while the sense of community in “convivium” enlarges the sacrifice/offering as tribal, a pact made by the collective on behalf of its members; as a gift whose scale is total, “bagat,” pace Marcel Mauss, is indeed potlatch. If what is served in the banquet is none the less human blood, who sits at the head of the table? God?

We are told about the hours leading to the child’s death through shifting perspectives arrayed to us in a series of intertwined vignettes on the lives of certain figures in the town of Putot (Severed): Domingo, husband of carnival mermaid; Amanda, naïve but devoted schoolteacher; Salvador, sweet-talking soldier; Silvano, saltmaker; Teofilo, fortune teller; and Emmanuel, who becomes the “bagat.”

A common figure in these tales of the Pangasinan everyday is Carmen, the collector of bets who is grandmother to Emmanuel and wife to Teofilo. We never know whether Carmen finds Emmanuel’s body, but she navigates a day in the town attending wakes and requiem masses, while gossiping about the dead and speculating on how certain numerical combinations on death instances might spell good fortune for the living. As we follow through the forlorn lives of the folk, we discover that deaths of children, young women, and old men have been random and regular in Putot town, and somehow, the storytelling persuades us to realize that everyone has been complicit with a culture of impunity. The necrotropic has seeped into habit.

As a folk song, “Malinak Ya Labi” describes how on a “silent night,” someone awakes with a longing for a beloved long absent from the dreamer’s life. The desire does not debilitate, however, as the remembrance banishes sorrow from the heart (Napunaslan ami’y ermen ya ag bibiten). To protect the memory of the love is the point of loving (in fact, in the absence of the beloved, to remember one performs the requisite passion), and remembrance possesses an acumen that might transcend the incipience of death (No nodnonoten ko ray samit day ugalim/Agtaka nalingwanan, anggad kaoyos na bilay

Langit’s “Malinak” transforms the song of his folk into an elegy; the film becomes a work of mourning, because the filmmaker’s grief is crystalline, like the salt of his earth. If the gift that must be received is death, the only way to love is to refuse forgetting. “Triste tropiques,” again and again. And how lovely is the loneliness! Its time is attenuated, like the salt of the fish that is made pure inside the jar that houses the ferment. Within that ecliptic space, the universe is always turning, darkly, into the vast silence, where love is most touching: “Ta pilit na pusok ya sika lay amamayoen.”

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Posted by on 21 November 2016 in Uncategorized