Monday, July 27, 2009

Colorum (Jon Steffan Ballesteros, 2009)

They proliferate and ply the metropolis like vermin. They are vehicles, outwardly and seemingly no different from the legitimate ones, operating illegally and clandestinely in the tough and immodest streets. They have no permit to exist, they abide by few rules: quick money, quick elusiveness. In Jon Steffan Ballesteros’s Colorum, they are as much about unredeemed machines as unredeemed human beings: lost souls waiting for the hard and tough epiphany of the streets.

Colorum posits such a cynical but humorous world, foregrounding protagonists who are faced by the consequences of their illegitimate deeds. Simon (Alfred Vargas) is a young cop, simultaneously idealistic and oblivious to his disappearing moral compass. After hours, he drives a colorum vehicle for his “godfather,” a police colonel who like a veritable devil is making sure that his young ward is getting promotions through the police ranks. On the face of it, however, Simon is a decent cop who won’t even think about abusing the power of the badge in his hands.

As Simon moonlights through Manila streets in his colorum FX one night, he picks up Pedro (Lou Veloso), a seemingly bewildered old man who seems to have lost his sense of direction. Unknown to Simon, Pedro has just served a 30-year sentence in prison, and is looking for his son with whom he has lost contact and who seems to have disowned him. Going in circles looking for a bus terminal, Pedro and Simon argue and run over a pedestrian. Instead of helping their victim, Simon speeds away. To make sure Pedro doesn’t squeal, Simon handcuffs him to his seat and upon instructions from his godfather, drives to faraway Ormoc, Leyte.

Colorum, from here, assumes the form of a road movie and a buddy movie – couched in humor and capped with pathos. Simon and Pedro start off as abrasive fellow travelers: the police man cuffing his aggrieved prisoner in undignified places. But their relationship is predictably dynamic, mutual fear and suspicion give way to mutual trust and friendship. Along the way, they meet and pick up a motley variety of characters, whose purgatorial states mirror Simon and Pedro’s own oscillating relationship. There is the poet (who is in the throes of despair over having lost his creativity), the pregnant teenager (who seems blithely unconcerned with abortion), and a pastor (who is also in the throes of guilt and compunction over making money out of his ministry).

Colorum is equal parts travelogue and road movie clichés. Every picturesque spot between Manila and Ormoc, highlighted by the Romualdez ancestral house in Tacloban City, becomes a backdrop for the ever-evolving relationship between the young, idealistic but ultimately oblivious Simon and the cynical and jaded but practical and pragmatic Pedro. As for clichés, we can see the relationship between the two leads moving from entropy to harmony. And the ending, featuring an act that proves declaratory and affirmative of friendship, is foreseeable.

Lou Veloso and Alfred Vargas, true to form, carry the film. Colorum is at its wittiest and funniest when Ballesteros’s script plays the two off each other. It is the cynicism of Veloso that gets most of the laughs to the detriment of the sometimes unbelievable naivety of Vargas. Together, they are a passably good comic tandem.

But Colorum is essentially about the dramatic interplay between Simon and Pedro, two ultimately similar creatures. They are two lost souls looking for redemption and respectability. Their journey may just finally afford them a coign of vantage on their own lives. Their colorum vehicle is no getaway car, but a Stygian vessel that carries lost souls in limbo, many of the borderline characters met along the way. For Simon and Pedro and those they meet, everything comes full circle in the end: the cycle of life and death; the counterpoints of purgatory and reprieve; the symmetries of dishonor and redemption.

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