Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ang Nerseri (Vic Acedillo Jr., 2009)

I would go to all Filipino films, I’d be the embodiment of a cinephage devouring all Filipino films in sight, if only this one filmic touchstone were fulfilled: the script must be original and new. Sadly, it’s one criterion that cannot float in our benighted culture, a culture of anti-intellectualism that pervades all aspects of living. We Filipinos would rather feel than think, relate to the existent than invent.

At this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, the jurors have just rewarded unoriginality yet again: Vic Acedillo Jr.’s Ang Nerseri has won the very award that it should have forfeited to win to begin with, the award for best screenplay. It is wretched irony for those who know a modicum of world cinema. Why? Because Vic Acedillo’s script blatantly borrows from well-known classics of world cinema: it cobbles together the premise of Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo and the plot twists of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows.

Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Leolo is peopled by a family of crazies where Leolo is the seemingly unafflicted child who must make poetic sense of it all and abide by his stricken family. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows, on the other hand, is about a group of siblings who are left to their own devices by an absentee and negligent mother.

Put these two films together and voila, you pretty much come up with Vic Acedillo’s Ang Nerseri. But while Leolo, a French-Canadian film, and Nobody Knows, a Japanese film, have the courage of their convictions, Ang Nerseri is too much of a crowd pleaser and chooses the easy route out. Ang Nerseri tweaks it into safe harbor: while Leolo logically culminates in the ultimate descent of the titular character into madness, Cocoy, Ang Nerseri’s central hero, is left virtually unscathed at film’s end. While Nobody Knows leaves the audience in no uncertain terms about the immorality of the mother, Ang Nerseri is more forgiving and conciliatory.

Ang Nerseri proffers to us, in fairly cloying terms, a man-child in the form of Cocoy who has the resilience of a child and the smarts and sangfroid of a matured man – in effect, an indestructible child. He has a lot of powers besides: his ubiquity (to help, to defend, to witness), his power over women, his veneer (and veneer only) of intelligence. Barely in his teens, he is practically a superhero, regardless of his kryptonite: freshman academics and Playboy magazines. And of course Jaclyn Jose, the indie film veteran, heaven forbid she gets an unsympathetic role in an indie film: surely not a two-faced mother. For Ang Nerseri’s finale, Jaclyn Jose gives us her most dignified and modulated tears: what we easily parse as tears of remorse.

Instead of bagging the award for best screenplay, Ang Nerseri should have won for best cinematography. (I haven’t seen 24K, however.) True, most of the film takes place indoors, Cocoy’s house, the neighbor’s, the hospital, but Ang Nerseri’s color design and choice of camera are, this time, yes, original. Different shades of blues and greens form the narrow yet crisp palette in an otherwise black and white film and project a cold and abnormal world appropriate for Ang Nerseri -- though at times -- and perhaps this was the knock -- these colors may look too decorative and aesthetic. In addition, the camera employed (a Canon 5-A digital still camera) also dictates the percussive rhythm of the film. It becomes a stuttering presence in some places, but its obtrusiveness blends into the dream – or perhaps nightmare? – logic of the film.

Likable – in a sterile, antiseptic way – but I prefer the originals.


  1. This is one of those films in Cinemalaya I regret watching (together with Kolorum). I got a headache when it won Best Screenplay. I was hoping Ang Pangagahasa kay Fe or Last Supper No. 3 would win the award. I also felt bad that Engkwentro went home with nothing. A Special Jury Prize or a Best Director award for Pepe Diokno would have been nice.

  2. nerseri is autobiographical, based on vic acedillo's family in the 80's, a decade before leolo, and two before nobody knows. i liked both those movies, and loved nerseri too.

    few in art are ever 100% original anymore because human experience is shared. nerseri was honest and courageous. that matters more.

  3. Andy: We think alike when it comes to who should have won the award for best screenplay. Panggagahasa kay Fe and Last Supper were my frontrunners too. Colorum seems to be angling too much for a mainstream audience. Engkwentro, however, is mostly unfulfilled potential, regardless of its growing international stature. (It has apparently received an invitation to the Venice Film Festival.)

    The Bakla Review: Acedillo’s film may be autobiographical, but it’s clear to me which films were sought as models and they are perhaps what awakened Acedillo’s memories. Maybe I’m wrong and what I attribute to Nerseri is purely unlucky coincidence.

    When you say that true originality in the arts has become impossible, you may be technically right. But there are also quantitative and qualitative degrees: Nerseri’s borrowings are painfully obvious. History, in the final scheme of things, is kinder to those who come first than those who simply follow.

    Call me a dreamer, but I’m still of a firm belief that the new and the original are worthy ideals. It’s jaded to say otherwise. It’s akin to death to stop seeing and responding to the new.

    The world as we speak is in a state of flux. Literally, figuratively.

  4. you're right. we do love the new. we are afterall children of modernism.

    however i don't see how you can praise engkwentro with its many cinematic forebears, and fault nerseri for same. i also loved engkwentro even though it reminded me of many other movies. it's possible.

  5. TheBaklaReview: Hi! Northern Portrait and I are different persons. I am the one who loved Engkwentro and Sanglaan. I disliked Nerseri. So there, we are completely independent from one another. There are two reviews for Engkwentro in this blog.

  6. I just thought that you guys who are making so-called intellectual comments should try making films that are original and without influence from the outside world...and we'll see about that.. aren't you glad over the success of others who triumphed out of his genius and unsullied surreal background? With the advent of technology and genius, we customize things to suit our advantage. The new netiquette is --- what you produce from what is already there is what we call in economics as innovation. Some of you would love origanl but there are many of us here that see innovation as knowledge management so don't be such a "square peg" thinkers... you have to see the wider screen and the greater specks of filmography. Newness, is such a strength of one guy like Vic and he deserves all that he is getting. His passion is where his heART is. Leave his success to the grin of film critics that acclaimed his work. But of course you are all entitled to your opinions just as I am.

  7. This kind of films is what I like because it's completely different, I like to watch these movies taking a cheap viagra dose because I can get focused on the movie.m10m