Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bente (2009, Mel Chionglo)

Photographs of various people fill up the movie screen. Most are photos of adult people. Some look like ordinary college girls. A few faces look familiar. Then, you read the names. Rebelyn Pitao. Sherlyn Cadapan. Karen Empeño. And, it quickly dawns on you that they are victims of extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances in the Philippines.

Bente is the latest independent film to deal with the culture of violence in our country. The fast-paced thriller started strong with the slideshow of photos. There is also a footage of an interview with Edith Burgos, mother of desaparecido Jonas. The movie chugged along at a frantic pace and was fortunate to avoid being a total wreck at the end.

A badly-edited action segment nearly ruined the movie. It seems odd that an assassin will kill someone in a crowded mall but action film fanatic Caloy (Ryan Eigenmann) is no ordinary assassin. He is excited to have his first kill and doesn't care where it will happen. The editing could have been tightened a bit more, though. Nevertheless, the focused and courageous movie is still one of the best films released so far in 2009.

Bente (twenty) refers to the lowest paper bill in circulation in the country. Scriptwriter Ricky Lee suggests that the life of an ordinary Filipino is sometimes worth only twenty pesos. A glance at the headlines gave credence to Lee's observation. Political killings remain unabated because of the scarcity of people convicted for extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances. Two journalists were killed in June 2009.

Every day, radio commentator Arnie Guerrero (Jinggoy Estrada) castigates the town mayor for graft and corruption. He minces no words in his radio show. His wife (Snooky Serna) reminds him to tone down his criticisms, but he just shrugs it off and reminds his wife that the mayor is a childhood friend who will never do him harm.

Student activist leader Mervin (Aldred Gatchalian) is aware of being stalked by people determined to stop him from doing his activities. He wasn't bullied into giving up. His pregnant wife (Glaiza de Castro) advises him to take a break from activism. He responded by narrating the tale of a prince who gave up his life in order to save his beloved princess from the clutches of an evil being.

Dina (Iza Calzado) is a wife with a death wish. She is stuck to a loveless marriage with a political assassin (Richard Gomez). Every time they make love, she is reminded of the rape incident that ultimately led to their marriage.

Arnie. Mervin. Dina. Three rebels yearning for a better life. Three souls willing to die for their causes. Three people linked together in the chain of violence.

Bente never wavered from its focus. From start to finish, it highlighted the importance of fighting for a cause. The film repeatedly asks the question: Are you willing to die for your cause? Mervin once said 'A life lived in fear is a life half lived.' So, even after having a close brush with death, he continues to fight for social justice.

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