Contrary to the default assumption articulated by thankful voice-over phantoms prior cinema screenings, I do not consider myself a movie patron, due to my moderate attention to the local scene. Binge-watching through a film festival has not been my usual practice, as an irregular viewer of no film or two every other Cinemalaya. But last week, interesting and intriguing trailers and titles of QCinema caught my fancy, especially ones that paradoxically problematize the act of watching and those that strive to re-read and re-write history during the American colonial period, a time when there was tokenistic democratic space to search for the Filipino soul (All Souls’ Day special, this article) through romanticized art and mass-manufactured culture, but never through acts considered seditious or subversive.
Presenting: capsule reviews of three full-length local films, shorts from two sets, two Asian films, and attempts to link and weave them together, as if in a conversation. Please find transcribed after the next colon a disclaimer: that I might have limited cinema comprehension skills so don’t expect much and that I might have placed spoilers ahead.
Christopher Gozum’s Dapol Tan Payawar Na Tayug, 1931 (Ashes and Ghosts of Tayug, 1931) casts limelight on Pedro Calosa, charismatic leader of the Colorum uprising in Pangasinan. Three different black-and-white narratives set in different periods tell tales in their own distinct manner: 1) the silent film, accurately depicting the peasants as voiceless, for the uprising proper lead by the young Pedro; 2) the “normal” yet old school film with synched video-audio for F. Sionil Jose’s retrospective interview of the old, christ-like, Pedro; and 3) the slideshow of fragmented photographs accompanied by an audio of documentary interviews conducted by a researcher among the people of Tayug and descendants of the Pedro who remain dead-forgotten for some, but mythical for great granddaughters wondering about their great grandfather’s talisman and powers.
With the researcher’s somewhat condescending thoughts of preaching about Calosa’s gospel to Tayug folks, I find the last point-of-view problematic, especially the survey portion. The protracted interrogation, “Do you know Pedro Calosa?,” seemingly tests and weighs the townsfolks’ worth as a people, further dragging them down in a mocking manner of inquiry that seems short of irony, hence possibly an unconscious contempt against the clueless people of Tayug. Link this with the second, and we remember Calosa’s bittersweet sentiments, when the unsupportive people of Tayug fled. Link this with the first, and we witness the esoteric beginnings of the hero identified by common folks as their leader. Hence, the realization that after viewing the movie that introduced Calosa to ignoramuses like us, we still cannot answer a resounding and confident yes to the question: Do you know Pedro Calosa?
As seen in a third of Dapol, the aesthetic of jarring images of surveillance frame Epoy Deyto’s Pixel Paranoia and Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes. The former shows how enforced disappearances figure in the deep web where lumpens from Thesis (1996) and Tetsuo (1989) thrive with impunity within an implied cycle circuited and looped until gods know when; while, the latter utilizes actual CCTV footages in China to patch together the narrative of an ill-fated romance between Qing Ting and Ke Fan, whose identities were blurred, overwritten, processed through binaries of voyeuristic ones and zeroes. In terms of technique, it remains a mystery (at least for me) how Kiri Dalena directed and shot the underwater scenes of Gikan Sa Ngitngit Nga Kinailadman (From the Dark Depths) that elicits a surreal but realistic vibe. The common viewer (pertaining, again, to myself) instinctively knows without totally understanding that the dream-like sequences, somewhat choreographed, happen in real-time (not in post-shoot-processing slow-motion since underwater currents, needless to say, restrain movement), and that, in contrast, the interspersed live footages of metropolitan violence and of life in the guerilla zones were not rehearsed.
These three delivered expectations promised by the titles alone: withholding the anonymity-cloaked uncles of the deep web triggers pixel paranoia, seeing everything and nothing renders dragonfly eyes a false sense of insight and omniscience, meditating under the flow of consciousness distances the self . It allows an individual to dive deeper and reach the unknown through what has been experienced and knowable.
Mikhail Red’s Neomanila featured what news anchors report on a daily basis, nowadays. A riding-in-tandem pair of hired guns, Irma and Raul, recruited a desperate orphan boy, named Toto, who remained a mediocre softy and never excelled as an apprentice killer. Irma killed the boy as he hesitates to shoot the trio’s target that night: a drug addict, who will later be revealed as her son. Irma could have been a strong character but her maternal instincts ruined everything, including the potential of the film to push further the boundaries of women empowerment. In contrast, the eponymous character of Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts succeeded in delivering DIY justice and killing men in a predominantly patriarchal Sumba island, in Indonesia, where folks routinely carry crude blades as weapons (perhaps, similar to the gulok). The film opened one afternoon when Markus, informed of the death of Marlina’s husband, issues a threat to take her property (house, land, livestock, and all) and to take her as property tonight, since six of his friends will come along. After poisoning the gang members, the widow beheaded Markus during the forced intercourse. Sent away by his seniors before dinner time, the youngest gang member, Franz, survived. The metaphor of castrating the phallus became more apparent when she went on a long journey to file a police report, carrying Markus’s severed head that Franz desperately tried to retrieve. The film closes with Franz, likewise beheaded-castrated, while trying to force himself on Marlina. Happily ever after, for survivors of robbery and rape.
Please find transcribed after the next colon an abrupt cliffhanger: though a number of commentaries could have been written about it by then, I shall devote next time a separate column article for Khavn Dela Cruz’s Balangiga: Howling Wilderness in connection to other films I have discussed.