Sunday, August 30, 2009

Imburnal (Sherad Anthony Sanchez, 2008)

The history of cinema is the history of the tyranny of narrative films. The right of first refusal to anything worth committing to film belongs to the province of narrative films. Narrative films are what sells, here and elsewhere. Narrativization, it seems, is the handmaiden of capitalism. Young filmmaker Sherad Anthony Sanchez turns away from this corruption of cinematic art and kneels down at the tabernacle of the experimental. Through Imburnal, a 3-hour, 30 minute tour de force set in the sewers and shantytowns of Davao City, director Sanchez renews and defamiliarizes our received notions about what it depicts, in the process dismantling the predictable tendencies of narrative films, in the process reawakening our collective conscience and consciousness. Let the wounds reopen and fester again!

What Imburnal succeeds in doing is recomposing and poeticizing the ugly, the squalor and the wretchedness. In effect, the cinematic alchemy is to see the sewers in a new light. The result may not be an aesthete’s notion of a paradisiacal playground, but the sewers are not merely repositories of filth and refuse either, but afford a hideaway for its denizens. They are the last refuge and haunting places for the kids and teenagers living in the nearby slums. We don’t smell these sewers for some reason, even as the waters flowing through them aren’t pristine either.

Eschewing straight narrative, director Sanchez decides to film episodes of life in the margins as they take place in and around the sewers. The editor (Sanchez, too?) and a phalanx of cinematographers are agents of abstraction as much as the director: the camera blurs out of focus, it decenters compositions, runs on and on in lengthy takes. Editing is as defamiliarizing: freeze frames, an assortment of jolting and jarring filters, disjunctive and non-linear editing, all intertwined with simply lyrical compositions. Out of potential tabloid material, Imburnal is perhaps what we might call an instance of poetic social realism.

While Davao City is hailed by lofty honors as the safest and cleanest city in Southeast Asia, there is much squalor in the periphery. Allen and Joel, two kids who figure in Imburnal, practically think of the sewers as their second home. They play and frolic and swim there, and tom-peep the older kids fornicating in different permutations. The older kids, no older than teenagers, hang out here too. They have dead-end prospects in life; their talk centers on sex, the opposite sex, love, and the mundane. Otherwise, there are cheap vices – smokes, alcohol, improvised drugs and all – to be had.

Imburnal attests to the instinctive resiliency of life – its strange but seductive mutations – where none is expected to survive. The sewers may not represent heaven on earth, but they sometimes function as the last refuge for the young who have nowhere to go. Some of them even go to die there. Through Imburnal, Sherad Anthony Sanchez has created both a poem – an elegiac one perhaps – and a document that attest to the lives of the marginalized and the voiceless. From the depths of these sewers rises a film that can arrest us, a beautiful Baudelairean flower.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Last Journey of Ninoy (2009, Jun Reyes)

A co-production of the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation and Unitel Productions, this wonderful docu-drama takes a look at the last nine days of Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. It chronicles his last day in Boston, Massachusetts until his fateful return to the Philippines on August 21, 1983. Interspersed with the running account of Ninoy's trip back home is an inspiring tale of the late senator's spiritual journey. How Ninoy overcame adversities and vicissitudes in his latter years is an inspiration and source of hope for downtrodden people.

Ninoy was a jolly, extrovert person who loved crowds. His political star shone early in Tarlac. In 1967, the 35-year old Ninoy ran for and won a seat in the Senate. A fearless and risk-taking politician, Ninoy took on the task of exposing the abuses and crimes of his Upsilon Sigma Phi brother, President Ferdinand Marcos. When Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, Ninoy and most of the opposition figures were sent to jail. Ninoy vowed to helped restore democracy.

A bittersweet recollection dealt with the visit of Cory Aquino and her children to Ninoy at a military camp in Laur, Nueva Ecija. The usually jovial Ninoy was now a sobbing man holding on to his pants. He was full of emotions because of his unexpected meeting with family members. He had given up hope of ever seeing them again. Three of his daughters were also crying. He was ashamed because here he was crying his hearts out while Cory did not shed a tear at all. Little did Ninoy knew that Cory was given a tranquilizer shot that numbed her feelings.

A sprinkling of delicious humor spiced up the documentary. If you've ever marvelled at the glib of tongue of Kris Aquino, then you'll be impressed more with the sense of humor and public speaking skills of her father, Ninoy. He truly loved giving speeches. He can easily crack funny jokes about his experiences in a military camp or at a hospital. He can shift from English to Filipino in a flash.

The docu-drama utilized restored videos, photos, and interviews with the late Senator Ninoy and the late President Cory. Among the most memorable vignettes were those prophetic interview with Ninoy at the Grand Hotel in Taipei and the hunger strike incident. There were some recreated scenes depicting the last days of Ninoy. Several of the latter scenes looked like commercials for a telephone company.

One of the most valuable lessons from the documentary is that things happen for a reason. The 7 years and 7 months-long incarceration of Ninoy brought him closer to God and his family. The hunger strike incident made him realized that the Filipinos are worth living for. The wonderful 3 years of family bonding in Boston, Massachusetts rejuvenated his love for his country and fellow Filipinos.

All these things and more prepared Ninoy to undertake the fateful journey back home. Watching Ninoy coolly describe what will happen to him in a few hours sends chills to the bones. His peaceful demeanor at the China Airlines jet is an amazing sight. He had really made peace with himself and his Creator. An assassin's bullet interrupted Ninoy's mission of restoring democracy. However, his death sparked three years of protests and rallies that culminated in the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986. Marcos and his family was exiled to Hawaii. Thus begin, the journey of Cory as President of the Philippines.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tarot (2009, Jun Lana)

Director Jun Lana is an award-winning playwright and scriptwriter. He is the youngest member of the Palanca Hall of Fame. His first horror film Mag-Ingat Ka Sa...Kulam has a well-written story with a nice plot twist.

However, Tarot, his second horror film, is an overwrought mess. It features a lot of story twists and surprises aimed at keeping the audience hooked. For a while, the ploy works but eventually the story gets too convoluted.

The film starts strong and in a brisk pace. A young girl named Cara stumbles upon the tarot cards of her grandma, Lola Auring (Gloria Romero). Instinctively, she divines what the cards are trying to say. She innocently says to her grandma that there will be a snowfall in the Philippines. When snow-like ash fell and covered their house, the audience is hooked to the story of the elder’s heir apparent and successor.

The movie further unravels the young girl’s use of her divination powers, which was then curtailed by her mother after the death of two family members. We next see Cara (Marian Rivera) as a young lady searching for her lost boyfriend, Miguel (Dennis Trillo). Out of desperation, she retrieves back the tarot cards of her grandma and promptly uses them to rescue her lover. Soon after, her family members and friends meet untimely deaths at the hands of veiled killers.

The plot surprises were not surprising at all. The picture in the wallet of Miguel telegraphs some twists way in advance. The director or editor should have deleted the scene. Also, Lola Nena’s narration of the tarot cards’ connection with a cult leader raises more questions than answers. What exactly triggered the killing spree by the veiled ones? Is there a curse related to using the tarot cards? Is there a curse on the family of the cult leader?

The big question though is how effective is the film in scaring the wits out of audiences? Unfortunately, the film also fails in this aspect. Indeed, no new local horror films this year have been successful in scaring multitudes. There is still hope for horror fans, though. There is still The Echo and some entries at the Metro Manila Film Festival.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Superfan (2009, Clodualdo del Mundo Jr)

Generations of Filipinos have lined up for movies and shows of the Superstar, Nora Aunor. Legions of fans have bought her albums. A devoted few followed her every move. From among these avid, passionate fans, none was as obsessed as Armando ‘Mandy’ Diaz Jr.

Superfan is based on an essay written by Diaz for the book Si Nora Aunor sa mga Noranian: Mga Paggunita at Pagtatapat, edited by Nestor De Guzman (Quezon City: Milflores Publishing Inc., 2005). In the essay titled Himala, Diaz narrated his miraculous devotion to Nora. He started adoring her when he was only 6 years old. The decades-long obsession with the Superstar resulted in a humongous collection of Aunor records and memorabilia. 47 volumes of clippings chronicle the odyssey of Nora from Albay to San Francisco Bay. 10 photo albums capture the highs and lows of the petite actress.

Near the end of the essay, Diaz, who was then only in his late 40s, mentioned that if he dies ahead of Nora, he wants the burial to be postponed until Nora visits his wake. The self-confessed number one fan of Nora died on June 7, 2008 at the age of 48. Nora was then, and still is, residing at the United States of America.

Did Nora visit his wake? The film ingeniously says yes, yes, yes! Three Aunors (a singing child sensation, a popular matinee idol, and a multi-awarded actress) pay respect to their ever loyal fan, Diaz. To paraphrase the title of Nora’s first single under Alpha Records, the Aunors ‘only came to say goodbye.’ With their visit, they rekindle memories of wonderful performances and songs by Nora.

The short film features generous amount of video clips and songs. We see Nora and Tirso Cruz dancing in Guy and Pip. Then, there's the silent showdown between Nora and Vilma Santos in Ikaw Ay Akin. And, who can't forget the scalding bath given by Nora to Phillip Salvador in Bona. The latter film dealt with a superfan who hooked up with a bit player in films. Bona became angry after learning about her idol's plan to migrate to North America.

In Superfan, Mandy Diaz Jr. (Nonie Buencamino) remarks that he will never follow Bona. He will stay loyal to Nora even if she migrates to the United States of America. Nora is, and will always be, in his heart and mind.

The 23-minute film failed to capture the near-mystical devotion of Diaz to Aunor. Only a small part of Diaz’s collection was seen onscreen. The film made up for that weakness by sharing an incident that tells a lot about the relationship of the two. After a big fight with his idol, Diaz threw out some of his collection. He then proudly narrated how Nora went out of her way to make amends. They made peace and he resumed his collection of all Aunor things.

I adored the neat device of having three Aunors visit the wake. That was a nice tribute to Diaz. I thought he really deserved that. After all, Diaz is, in his own words, alone in the ranks of Noranians that truly loved Nora ‘super-to-the-max.’

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Last Supper No. 3 (Veronica Velasco, 2009)

A litigant always loses, goes one casually delivered but very potent line in Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. Set in a modern yet benighted German city, this magical realist novel proceeds to not just evoke this oft-presumed saying, but enlarges to incriminate an entire judicial system. It's a figment of Kafka’s imagination, a work of fiction, but it could very well be the marrow of Veronica Velasco’s Last Supper No. 3, a comic film on the same Kafkaesque themes, derived from an actual court case docketed in the Philippines just a few years ago.

Last Supper No. 3 recounts one curious case revolving around a missing tapestry. The man in the firing line is one Wilson Nanawa, an outwardly decent and unassuming gay man who toils as an employee for an advertising firm. His job entails, among other things, renting and taking care of props sourced from his own neighborhood. After one particular shoot for a corned beef commercial, however, Wilson discovers the disappearance of the titular wall décor. The owner, a money-grubbing man named Gareth Pugeda, insists that if the family heirloom (a kitschy one, yes, but he is adamant about its value: his father’s gift from Saudi Arabia) could not be replaced, its full monetary worth should have to be refunded. It’s a hefty sum, but at first it seems as if the grasping character and his mother have agreed to a much lower amount. It’s but a prelude to a nightmare: a lawsuit.

Last Supper No. 3, on the surface, is a funny and uproarious story, but its mordant satire can also sensitize. While we laugh belly laughs at the sight of the unsuspecting Wilson Nanawa being blindsided by one absurdity after another, the legal escalation that proceeds from this seemingly negligible case is mutually destructive. Estafa is compounded by charges of serious physical injuries (it’s a long story), but it still seems like a manageable case for Wilson and his co-worker Andoy to hurdle. As the days and months and years wear on, however, the wear and tear – mostly on Wilson – becomes both unbelievably comic and absurd.

Much of the absurdity is registered to perfection by Joey Paras who plays Wilson Nanawa. We see by slow, painful but funny degrees the trajectory of his character proceed from hope to disbelief to resignation. One wonders, though, about the filmmakers’ decision to make its much-abused doormat of a character a gay man. Should one be resigned to the stereotype of the gay man as a lightning rod for abuse to savor the comic pleasures of this film? Joey, meanwhile, essays his role like no other, with the right dose of vulnerability and sensitivity, on his tortuous, circuitous way to justice.

Many of the courtroom proceedings (the protraction of cases, the rehearsed testimonies) and what happens around the case (the vampirism of lawyers, the fixers and the bribable red tape and bureaucracy) are Kafkaesque in their absurdity, but Veronica Velasco and Jinky Laurel did not have to invent much of the script. It is an adaptation of a story by Winston Acuyong based on his real-life experiences. As it turned out, its absurdities have lent well to a comic evocation. What is perhaps more absurd is that there are more absurd cases than this.

Watching Last Supper No. 3, I sometimes balked at laughing even at its funniest moments. The details were all too familiar and soon came flooding back to me. As a child, I’d seen firsthand what was transpiring onscreen. My mother was an assistant provincial fiscal who would often bring home her work. At suppers, she would recount stories about defendants with evil eyes and corrupt judges. She would bring home state evidence, bags of marijuana, guns, jewelry. At home, she would rehearse the witnesses as they sat nervously and mutely in a corner, all seemingly according to her version of the truth. But at night, she would sit up bolt upright in bed when the dogs howled for some reason. She would go around the house, marching up and down the stairs, switching on and off the lights, like a restless sleepwalker. Even then I knew: the law could swallow you whole.

Monday, August 17, 2009

And I Love You So (2009, Laurenti Dyogi)

There are a few firsts achieved by this movie. It is the first time a Star Cinema film did not get distributed by the SM theater circuit. It also marked the first time Bea Alonzo donned a two-piece bikini.

Sexy Alonzo plays a preschool teacher named Lara Sarmiento Cruz. She's stuck in a rut ever since the death of her husband, Oliver Cruz (Derek Ramsay). The movie portrays Oliver as a prince charming and a saint. He is just too good to be true. Lara rues her loss and cries her heart out until reality sets in. In need of some money, the young lady decides to lease her condominium unit. Chris Panlilio (Sam Milby) became her tenant, and later, friend.

And I Love You So then takes the formulaic route. Boy falls in love with girl. They get along well. Girl gets angry with boy. They split up. Then, cue in the title 'Two years later.' Ooops, did I just spoil your movie viewing? Well, that is no spoiler. A happy ending seems requisite for a Star Cinema romance film.

This film is a typical product churned out by the Star Cinema factory. It features the basic elements: a love that bears all things; rich characters with overflowing money; glossy photography that shows off picturesque locations; kilometer-long dialogues in English; kilig moments with music in the background; and sexy actors/actresses who bare flesh.

Ripped abs and fleshy curves were all for naught as the movie fails to stand out among countless romance films. The film doesn't have a sympathetic character. Oliver is a dead guy. Lara is too dependent on a lover and wallows in self-pity. Chris seems to be a caring person but ultimately revealed to be a liar.

Lara's obsession with good boy Oliver is a bit extreme. There were moments when I thought the film will reunite Lara with her true, real, and only love, Oliver. With all her loud wailing and drunken sprees, not a few moviegoers wish for it to happen, no matter how morbid.

As it is, the film is recommended only to die-hard fans of Alonzo, who gets better and lovelier with every film.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lupang Hinarang (work-in-progress, Ditsi Carolino)

Lupang Hinarang, a two-part documentary, is a gripping and highly-educational look at the volatile issue of agrarian reform in the Philippines. Two decades of land reform program resulted in the distribution of only 20% of privately owned agricultural lands to farmers. As long as landlords and corporations take a vise hold grip on their lands, farmers will fight for their rights.

The first part deals with the decade-long struggle over a 144-hectare land at Hacienda Velez-Malaga in Negros Occidental. The family of Roberto Cuenca attempts to gain back ownership of the land. A total of 122 farmers, armed with certificates of land ownership award, are staking their claim on the land. Their attempts are always met with harassment and violence.

A terrifying moment occurred early in the documentary. Farmers take cover in their hastily-made pits as they avoid bullets fired by security guards employed by Cuenca. The murder of farmer beneficiary Pepito Santillan convinces the farmers to employ a new tactic in their battle against a formidable foe with powerful connections. Bobby, son of Roberto Cuenca, is (was?) married to Bianca, daughter of Representative Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Arroyo.

The farmers take their battle to Metro Manila. Eighteen farmers participate in a hunger strike at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office near the Quezon Memorial Circle. I remember seeing the Task Force Mapalad signs. I pass by the farmers' picket line every day on my way to work. I saw the streamers asking for the resignation of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman. But, never did I imagine that more than a dozen peasants were undergoing hunger strike at the cramp area.

A deluge of supporters visit the picket line to bolster the spirit of the farmers. A hunger strike icon, Ka Rene Peñas of Bukidnon, praises them and calls them heroes. Some members of the House of Representatives express their support for the farmers’ cause. For 29 days, the farmers subsisted only on liters of water. Victory came with DAR’s order for their immediate installation on the hacienda.

The first segment of the documentary ran the gamut of emotions. There is terror (bullying by goons), sadness (writing of last will), joy (receiving of Holy Communion), happiness (victory dance) and relief (installation of farmers). Even though the farmers got to occupy their land, the minions of Cuenca still continue to wreak havoc. Two of the hunger strike participants were fatally gunned down while trying to cultivate their land.

The second part documents the steps taken by 55 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon in their two-month odyssey to Malacañang Palace. I marveled at the camerawork of Carolino. She was marching along with the Higaonon farmers but the resulting footages were not jerky and dizzying. A comic moment deals with efforts of farmers to cool off their testicles.

A front-page coverage of the 1,770 kilometer march brought the issue to national consciousness. San Miguel Corporation decided to give back the 144-hectare land to the farmers. The success of the farmers was made possible with the support of religious people, news media, lawyers, and ordinary people.

The Cinemalaya 2009 showing of the documentary was one of the best viewing experiences I had at the film festival. The amazing documentary is still a work in progress. Some recent news, good and bad, had not been included in the Cinemalaya 2009 version. The June 5, 2009 murder of Ka Rene Peñas was not mentioned in the documentary. Ka Rene was the leader of the Sumilao farmers.

The best news so far is the signing into law of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms bill. The law extends the land reform program for five more years. The next step is to ensure the law is fully implemented. I hope we will not see again the irony of farmers reminding lawmakers what the law is all about.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Manila (2009, Raya Martin & Adolfo Alix Jr)

‘Sir, black and white po iyung pelikula,’ reminded the ticket seller at the movie theater. Cineplexes must have received complaints from avid fans of Piolo Pascual during the first few days of the film's screenings. I bought a ticket and went in to see this two-part film. Lo and behold! There were just a handful of moviegoers at the movie theater. This is the only Piolo movie I’d seen that failed to bring in the crowds at a theater.

More than the black-and-white images of Manila, I thought the junkie role of Piolo must have turned off fans. Manila’s Day segment, helmed by Raya Martin, takes off from the last few scenes of Manila By Night. Drug addict William (Piolo Pascual) is able to elude cops chasing him and Cherie (Aleck Bovick). He spends the night at Luneta. He wakes up and loiters aimlessly. The rest of the segment, which shows William being rejected by people, is entirely new material based on a script by Ramon Sarmiento.

I didn’t like the Day segment of Manila. Martin took a big risk creating a sequel to what he considers the best Filipino film of all time, Manila By Night, directed by Ishmael Bernal. The time frame is too short to give some meat to the story. The acting and casting are not that good. Cry-baby Piolo is not credible as a hopeless druggie. He is simply too healthy to portray a young man desperately hooked on drugs. Rosanna Roces seems too young to portray his mother. John Lapus is no match to Bernardo Bernardo.

Martin knows every sequel or homage film will pale in comparison with the Bernal classic. I think his real objective, then, is to espouse the original, pre-censorship ending of the Bernal classic. As far as I know, the ‘happy epilogue’ ending, which was tackily attached to the DVD version of Manila By Night, was a concession made by Bernal to censors. In his Day segment, Martin rejects the ‘happy ending.’ He posits a bleaker ending for the character played originally by William Martinez.

The Night segment, directed by Adolfo Alix Jr., is based on another film classic, Jaguar by Lino Brocka. Never did I imagine liking an Alix film over a Martin film, but, in this case, I loved the Night segment more than the Day segment. My minor complaint with the segment is Philip (Piolo Pascual) was too much of an idiot. Director/scriptwriter Alix should have given the character stronger reason for blasting away. There is a major difference between this segment and Jaguar. Alix veered away from the latter’s ending. Just like Martin, he presented a bleaker ending.

The two segments present a dark, almost one-dimensional portrait of the city of Manila. The bleak endings give a scary, heartless picture of the city. There is nary a tinge of hope left for the main characters. The beautiful black-and-white images of police road blocks, flooded streets, mounds of garbage, and filthy ocean trap the protagonists looking for the exit. Death seems to be the only way out.

It is a good thing that jazzy and cheesy segments involving a film shooting were inserted at the middle and end of the movie. The film City of Love is an over-the-top romance story between a nurse and her remorseful boyfriend. The cheesy reconciliation of the couple happens in the middle of the night at the Ospital ng Maynila. The funny romp was a nice ender to an ambitious but uneven project of producer Piolo Pascual.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe (Alvin Yapan, 2009)

Alvin Yapan’s Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe is set in a seemingly serene and sleepy town, secluded enough for its realities to engender a suspension of disbelief, but not so secluded as to be hermetically sealed from the world outside. While the world undergoes paradigm shifts and upheavals, this film's setting throws us back to primal and elemental times. Yapan's story comes in the shape of a fable that reminds us of the tales of the Brothers Grimm, Greek myths, or better yet, our own rich folklore. In a word, the eponymous woman's rapture is an allegory on the plight of the Filipino woman, her bewildered stance at self-preservation in the face of many undesirable choices.

Begin then with a disquieting scene in a quiet wooded town, a young man walking home witnesses to his horror a vision of three women hanging under a banyan tree. Seeking an explanation, he consults the local shaman, who explains that the three women were raped and hanged by Japanese soldiers during the occupation, apparently to demoralize their husbands who had taken up guerilla arms against the occupiers. Are these cries for help or are they coded messages from another world? Something is terribly amiss.

This disconcerting prologue intimates the possible realities encompassed: the physical, the paranormal, the supernatural. The eponymous character Fe has just been repatriated from a job in Singapore, a casualty of a world in an economic tailspin, not realizing that her return may not mean a bucolic peace. The film segues into Fe’s reintroduction to the hard life in her hometown: while she works as a weaver of rattan baskets, her husband works in another department of the same small-scale factory. What Fe doesn’t know is his husband Dante’s dalliances with a co-worker. The proprietor of the handicraft factory is Arturo, a young man who was Fe’s onetime secret lover. Arturo and his family now also own the couple’s land, mortgaged to pay for Fe’s expenditures to secure an overseas job.

The poverty Fe experiences upon her return is both economic and spiritual. What she faces is a life of privation, a hand-to-mouth existence, so that when a basket of black fruits keeps appearing at her doorstep, she can only welcome it without question. Dante is suspicious of a suitor and beats her up for a confession. Fe confronts Arturo, whom she suspects of sending the fruits but who is as equally puzzled. This, however, rekindles their passions and leads to trysts. Fe’s worldly fate has boiled down to a choice between two undesirable choices, two heavily-flawed men: Dante, an adulterous, abusive and possibly impotent man; and Arturo, a weak-hearted man who can’t stand apart from a possibly abusive father. The local shaman, however, soon informs Fe of her secret suitor: the kapre.

Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe disquiets – and disquiets well – on myriad levels. On its most literal level, it not only foregrounds a story of adultery and infidelity but a story of institutionalized human indiscretions through generations. On a symbolic level, it depicts an allegory of a universal and modern theme: the struggle of women to assert their hard-won subjectivity. Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe also becomes the arena for the dialectical struggle of modern thought and the primal and mythological psyche.

Alvin Yapan is a fabulist who knows to tell his story with the right pitch and detachment – to achieve the proper effect and affect and never strain for the sensational, the melodrama of fear and horror. When the elemental kapre finally materializes, he is not a 10-feet-hirsute creature smoking tobacco with a horrifying, otherworldly presence, but a man of modest human dimensions, his face wreathed in tattoos, his voice full of solemnity and fierceness. He is almost like an emissary of our tribal ancestors sent to rectify modern permissiveness and wayward morality. But the colors we attribute to him are dark and her presence evokes eerie feelings.

Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe is mysterious without being overly mystifying. It lays down its narrative in a linear, straightforward way, set in concrete reality interspersed with calculated intimations of the otherworldly and the supernatural. Folklorists and mythological purists may not agree with the liberties the writer-director has taken in fleshing out his kapre, but this decision enhances the disquieting ambiguity inherent in the role of the elemental. Working from his own screenplay, Yapan achieves the fine overlap of realities, women trying to play bigger roles versus traditional subjugation and patriarchy, modern thought versus traditional superstition, world realities versus small-town life. Stories like Yapan’s remain common in the rural countryside, but are gradually disappearing in an increasingly urbanized society. Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe, however, ends on an eerie note, as though to uphold the irrational past, times when the rapture of a woman may only mean little reprieve and certain doom.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Engkwentro (2009, Pepe Diokno)

Pepe Diokno, youngest filmmaker ever granted Cinemalaya funds for a full-length feature, is a grandchild of the late human rights advocate and esteemed Senator Jose Diokno. Armed with lots of moolah, genes of a fighter, and hand-held cameras, Pepe Diokno makes a grand political statement with Engkwentro. He deals head-on with the issue of extra-judicial killings in the country, which is one of the worst crimes of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

I'd enjoyed watching the film. It bristled with the passion of an avid moviegoer, explosive energy of a sprinter, and the fiery courage of an activist. I loved the references to the films, Imburnal, Tirador, and Tribu. Diokno took some of the best parts from each film and incorporated them into his film. Just like Imburnal, Engkwentro features juvenile delinquents treated as unwanted animals and pests. The 'cockroaches' of Imburnal and the 'rats' of Engkwentro were easily extinguished by vigilantes.

Tirador is a fast-paced story about snatchers in Quiapo. There is a scene in Engkwentro showing members of Batang Dilim prowling in the dark alleys. They chanced upon a member of a rival gang and proceeded to manhandle him. One of the gang members brought up his slingshot (tirador) and took a shot at the crotch of the rival gang member. Then, they're off like snatchers sprinting to safety.

With Tribu, Diokno cribbed the story of two gangs facing off in the middle of the night. Some fight scenes were underlit. Whether those were intended or not, the dark and dizzying scenes showed gang members in their preferred environment. These low-lifers are creatures of the night, as suggested by their gang names, Batang Dilim and Bagong Buwan. The varmints loiter in the dark alleys. They scamper like rats in the dizzying mazes.

Diokno failed to borrow the spontaneity of the dialogues in Tribu. In the set-up prior to the slingshot scene, there's an awkward silence among the gang members. Maybe a frontal camera shot of the gang could have removed the awkwardness. I also disliked Tomas’ brandishing of his gun. The gang leader must have been stoned because he failed to use the gun during the melee. However, the shootings at the end were spectacularly shot and very powerful.

The key asset of the movie is the ominous voiceover by a mayor named Danilo Dularte Suarez. The name of the mayor refers to two things, the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City. Yes, Diokno zooms in specifically on the killings in Davao City. Engkwentro further ups the ante by mimicking portions of real speeches made by Mayor Duterte. There is a part where the voiceover even refers to the 2004 killing of human rights defender Rashid Manahan in Davao City. The voiceover is a nice device to show the omnipresence of the mayor and his goons. It adds to the paranoia felt by a gang leader, Richard (Felix Roco), who is determined to leave the place.

During the UP Cine Adarna screening of the film, a female student was wondering about the identity of the man behind the voice. 'Si Bayani ba iyan?,' she blurted out loud. It is disappointing to learn that a college student fails to identify the man given the facts broadcasted at the start of the film. That type of ignorance can be fixed with a simple research or a daily reading of news.
What cannot be fixed immediately is the fact that a lot of Davao City residents seem to accept the need for vigilante killings. Yes, Davao City seems to be peaceful and safe, but at what price? Lives of children and young people? Good grief! They are not insects and varmints that should be exterminated or vanquished.

Films like Engkwentro and Imburnal are important because they unveil the truth about the killings in Davao City. Some may argue with the artistic excesses. Some may disagree with the approaches to storytelling. But, nobody can deny the power and relevance of the films’ political statement: Stop extra-judicial killings in Davao City!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dinig Sana Kita (2009, Mike Sandejas)

Mike Sandejas' crowd-pleasing offering is a combination of his award-winning debut film Tulad Ng Dati and Peque Gallaga's tween romances, Baby Love and Agaton & Mindy. It won the Best Musical Score Award and the Audience Choice Award at the Cinemalaya 2009 competition.

Dinig Sana Kita starts with a rock concert featuring Niña (Zoe Sandejas) and her band. Trouble erupts and the young female rocker finds herself getting dragged to the police precinct. This is not the first time she gets involved in altercations, hence, her parents and school administrators decide to send her off to a camp in Baguio City to cool off. The camp is for deaf and hearing kids. In Baby Love, the cadets’ camp was also set in Baguio City.

Director Sandejas remarked that he got the idea of a camp for deaf people and hearing people from a friend. Inspired with the concept, he decided to make a script and entered it at the Cinemalaya competition. When he started shooting the film, the production in Baguio became a real life camp. He noted that the kids remained friends even after the shooting, and they still communicate with one other through online chat and Facebook.

The importance of communication is highlighted throughout the movie. People who are deaf are just like foreigners who can't converse with locals. They need to be creative in order to speak to other people. Francisco ‘Kiko’ Reyes (Romalito Mallari) is a deaf dancer who meets Niña at the camp. He always brings a small notebook and a whiteboard pentel just in case he wants to speak to someone who can't understand sign language. He even gives Niña his cell phone number in a scene which always gets laughter from audiences. The laughter subsides when the moviegoers realize that, yes, they can communicate via short messaging service.

In the course of the film, we learn the reason why Niña rebels. She hates talking with her mother, who seems to have done something terribly bad. She only wants to talk with her father. But, her father ignores her attempts to bond with him. With every rejection, the young rock musician increases the volume of her IPod. She drowns herself in a cacophony of loud music and throbbing drum beats. Slowly, her disabuse of hearing takes its toll.

The film has uncanny similarities with the visually-enticing Agaton & Mindy. Both films deal with mothers from hell. Both films feature male dancers who were abandoned babies. And, the best thing of them all, they showcase passionate dance presentations. The Ugoy Ng Duyan dance is exquisitely good. Discovering how the hearing-impaired Kiko learned to dance to the soothing music of Ugoy Ng Duyan is worth the price of admission ticket. One can feel his intense longing to feel the embrace of his mother. The embracing sound of the music is a pale alternative to an actual hug from his mother. It should be noted that Rome Mallari was really an abandoned baby. He hopes the film will get him closer to his father.

Dinig Sana Kita ended with a rock concert featuring Sugarfree. From start to finish, Sandejas has it all covered. Good music. Superb dancing. Delicious bits of comedy. Okay performances, especially Mallari's. Happy ending for the young couple. It is no wonder then that the film won the most number of votes from Cinemalaya Cinco audiences, which are mostly made up of young moviegoers.