It is not journalism either, but, by bending fiction, it moves towards the same goal: a presentation of the truth.
Citizen Jake is billed as a film about the present political landscape of the Philippines, but there is no news in what it reveals: politicians are corrupt, judges are unjust, dissenters suffer harassment, women struggle with patriarchy, and the poor remain powerless. It does not attempt to make its own politics neutral: the film is blatantly anti-Marcos, and for that reason it is bound to be denounced by citizens of certain convictions. In one scene depicting the everyday corruption of a low-ranking law enforcer, the camera pans to momentarily highlight the Duterte posters displayed outside his house.
There is no news either in this film’s plot of political intrigue, crimes and conspiracies. Jake Herrera (Atom Araullo), a former professional journalist, now teacher and blogger-cum-‘citizen journalist’, is waging a personal war against social evils while struggling with his familial relationships to the very kind of corrupt politician he is crusading against. There is nothing particularly surprising in its story and the verbal and visceral violence that comes with it. When Citizen Jake manages to say something intriguing, something that finally feels fresh, it is when it veers away from the overtly political, as when Jake contemplates his friendship with a household servant.
But while Citizen Jake’s politics is predictable, and most of its insights familiar and conventional, the way it presents them is not. In the opening scene, Jake speaks to the camera, introducing the film as a story enhanced by the techniques of Cinema. Early on, commenting on the setting of Baguio City, there is a history lecture presented through a slide show of old photographs. Throughout the story there are narrative interludes enhanced by intertitles that echo words from the voice-over, stark white on a black background, looking like newspaper headlines, or protest slogans. Supporting characters are often presented in quick cut scenes, portrait-style, with the actors looking straight into the camera—looking straight at you, the audience. Citizen Jake even has a montage of its own behind-the-scenes footage, showing the actors surrounded by cameras, microphones, lighting set-ups and the crew. This film is fictional, but it is often presented as if it were a documentary.
Continue reading “‘Citizen Jake’ is not a movie”
Delia and Sammy, the caricaturish anti-heroes, are obnoxious, devious bullies. Still, in the end, we find them endearing.
People do not just turn into saints when they grow old, a character says halfway through Delia & Sammy. She says it to justify the coldness she displays towards her uncle and aunt-in-law, but it is also a concise expression of what the film depicts throughout its story. It challenges what our society teaches the youth—that we should respect the elderly without question.
At first blush, there seems to be no reason for us to deny the protagonists—the titular characters—our full sympathies. Delia, proudly and sharply portrayed by Rosemarie Gil, is a former actress who avoids public transportation, perhaps because she does not want to be seen mingling with the masses, or perhaps because she does not want people pitying her and her faded career. She has cancer, and learns she has not much time left to live. Her husband Sammy—a mostly hilarious but terrifying, and also heartbreaking, Jaime Fabregas—is a once-formidable disciplinarian, now chronically ill and forgetful. The first time we see him, he has just wet himself, and is scolded by Delia for ruining his pants.
Soon, however, we see that this couple is not as pitiable as their circumstances suggest—not that they demand sympathy. They are too proud for that. Sammy is often aloof, wide-eyed, and confused by his creeping dementia, but at the slightest glimpse of ladies—nurses and doctors at the hospital, a provocative woman at an inn, teenagers at a bus stop—he would revert to his creepy, teasing and womanizing ways, much to Delia’s chagrin. At other times, when something displeases him, he would snap back into his severe, disciplinarian self, smacking hapless strangers with his cane. That is the trichotomy of his personality: if he is not confused, he could only be creepy, or cruel.
Continue reading “‘Delia & Sammy’: despicable seniors”
Rivers are the arteries of nature, coursing through the flesh of landscapes with life-giving water. But in war-torn lands, they carry a further burden: they run with tears and blood, and like veins they drain scarred countries of mournful spirits.
In Women of the Weeping River, such a river is the meeting place between lands disputed by two clans. The anguished Satra Mustafa (Laila Ulao)—daughter, sister, mother, and widow—once comes to this river seeking refuge, immersing herself in its waters as if to cleanse herself of grief.
The river cuts through the middle of the conflicted lands, evoking dualities of life and death, war and peace, past and present. Indeed, the geography of the film mirrors that word we hear many times from the lips of its characters—harmony. The land that gives and takes, the country that is both the spring of wealth and the source of struggle for its people, is rendered here with reverence, the camera capturing the mystic and mythic images of sacred grounds. There is harmony in the blend between the countryside setting of most of the film (in the forests, rivers, plains and mountains of the Philippine south), and the intervening scenes set in the city (with a focus on the bustle and density of urban life).
Harmony, however, is a product of balance as much as of tension. In Women of the Weeping River, this is already explicit in the struggle between the feuding clans, but a deeper tension comes from the conflict between an individual and her society.
Continue reading “‘Women of the Weeping River’: harmony and conflict, grief and forgiveness”
The film celebrates, heartbreaking as it is, the universal difficulty of love.
In these times of shifting attitudes and emerging identities, how could films portray romantic love, that most celebrated of human relationships, with its universal allure and unchanging essence as well as its contemporary complications?
Changing Partners, Dan Villegas’ deft adaptation into film of the stage musical by Vincent de Jesus, feels like an answer to that challenge. It is the story of Cris and Alex, lovers separated by 15 years in age; this disparity is only the first among many contrasts explored in this film.
Continue reading “‘Changing Partners’: postmodern love”
Despite its problematic attitude to science, and its shortcomings as a work of cinema, ‘Instalado’ is full of ideas demanding discussion.
The release of every new Filipino science fiction film is cause for excitement, because sci-fi is such a rarity in Philippine cinema. It does not help that the mainstream attempts are often trashy—figuratively as well as literally, in the case of 2007’s Resiklo. Science fiction, or speculative fiction in general, is an engaging medium for discussing important ideas about society. The genre holds great potential for our country, where the people are addicted to escapist entertainment.
We cannot blame a lack of talent and imagination. There is in fact a wealth of excellent speculative fiction in Philippine literature, but these stories remain obscure in a nation with no particular love of reading. (We have great authors like Dean Francis Alfar, who have published stories and books in fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism and every conceivable speculative genre, not just in the Philippines but internationally.) Films, with all their pomp and celebrity, are more effective at penetrating the Filipino consciousness, and thereby is a more powerful channel for disseminating meaningful stories.
Enter Instalado, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival. (This festival is itself a fascinating and unique project, with its dedication to the upliftment of Philippine agriculture.) The genius of Instalado is in the premise: it was a brilliant stroke of creativity for its filmmakers to have come up with a science-fiction approach on its way to joining a film festival about farming. Agriculture immediately evokes the pastoral, the rural, and indeed many entries in ToFarm are traditional dramas set in the countryside. Instalado instead recognizes that the struggles of farmers can spill down the road to the city.
Continue reading “‘Instalado’: knowledge is power, and power corrupts”