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.