Monday, January 24, 2011

Presa (2010, Adolfo Alix Jr)

Presa, winner of the Best Indie Film award at the 36th Metro Manila Film Festival, had a limited run at moviehouses. In several theaters, the prison drama was replaced by a foreign film after only a day, or two, of screenings. Is this a portent of what awaits award-winning indie films in the next 12 months?

I've seen only two festival indie entries, Presa and Jerrold Tarog's Senior Year. The former is the better film in terms of story-telling, acting, and over-all direction. Is it the best of the indie slate? I don't know. The film, though, is a pretty good one and probably Adolfo Alix's best so far. Yes, it is not a big deal but at least Alix is no longer contented in churning out pwede-na-yan films.

The prolific filmmaker, with more than 15 films to his name, came out blazing in the second half of 2010 with two excellent films, Presa and Chassis. The latter, about a homeless woman making ends meet as a prostitute, is a fine film marred by a shocking ending that could have been staged and directed more realistically. The castrated victim doesn't even defend himself. He is no Samson that has been deprived of strength. After the despicable deed is done, a freeze-frame of Nora's face would have sufficed. However, the acting in both films is amazing. Alix's handling of his actors is a marked improvement over his horrendous direction in Romeo at Juliet.

Anita Linda gives a tour-de-force performance as a former actress imprisoned for drug pushing in Presa. Every line and wrinkle on her face speaks of her bruising life experiences. She exudes toughness and bitchiness as Cion. She continually carps about the radio being played nightly. When she receives positive news about her release, she destroys the radio. She doesn't fear reprisal because she knows someone will come to protect her. Rosanna Roces plays the squad leader who is a big fan of Cion. She is a former policewoman who instills discipline among the women inmates.

A major effect of prison discipline is clearly shown in the clean surroundings of the prison compound. It is what you may expect from disciplined women who have lots of time. The whole place is like a well-maintained college dormitory. Each inmate has her own bed. They have access to a good bath. There is even a beauty parlor for the inmates. The food seems edible and comes in ample servings. Prison life in this correctional is a far cry from the grimy and violence-ridden jails of Deathrow, Selda, and Ranchero.

The 'good' prison life though is not the be all and end all of inmates. They desperately want to get out of prison. Daria Ramirez plays an inmate nearing completion of her jail sentence. She expects to be reunited with her husband, who is also scheduled to be released soon. Meanwhile, the other inmates go on with their prison life with the hope that their time will also come soon. Jodi Sta. Maria portrays a hardworking, martyr mother. She earns enough money by selling merienda items and laundering clothes. She then gives the money to her son during prison visits. These fleeting reunions with family members are cherished by the inmates.

Unsatisfying endings and lack of special attention to details are usually the weaknesses of several Alix films. This film luckily doesn’t have both weaknesses. However, I have a minor, minor gripe with the awkward way Tetchie Agbayani fell into the pool. A collision with a fellow running inmate must have been a better catalyst for Agbayani's dunking and surprise eloquence.

The fantastic finale elevates the fine film into a great film. Amidst the bevy of memorable performances, the artistry of Anita Linda shines brightly during the breakdown scene and the shooting segment. Cion (Linda), a self-proclaimed award-winning actress, has a hard time getting her act together during a film shooting. The pain she undergoes is wrecking havoc on her concentration. She bungles her dialogue, which speaks of her happiness over an inmate’s release. The tough, unrepentant octogenarian becomes a mere stammering softie.

Kudos to a briliant script by Alix and Agnes de Guzman, a volunteer at the Correctional Institute for Women in Mandaluyong. Alix has always been known as a multi-awarded scriptwriter. With this film, he shows maturity as a film director.

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