History is important despite its unfortunate repetitiveness. The way it is retold should be more inventive.
Films are one solution to the problem of tedious history lessons. This medium of sights and sounds, combined with the factual liberties afforded to dramatizations of historical events, makes the past real, turns staid accounts and lifeless facts into visceral sensations—and refashions the study of history from a mechanical transfer of data into a transformative human experience with emotional gravity. That is the idea, at least.
First there is the complication of films as vehicles for history lessons, lessons being quite a controversial concept in the context of art. Filmmakers are storytellers first and foremost, but in the process of making historical movies, they involuntarily have to take on some of the difficult functions of preaching and teaching. The very act of selecting a subject, and choosing which details about that subject is presented, is a statement bound to generate dissatisfaction one way or another. The filmmaker may choose to present history in a straightforward, agreeable manner, and then be accused of naivety. She might also choose to deconstruct history, to subject the past to critical scrutiny, revealing heroes to be not so heroic, revolutions not so revolutionary—and then be accused of being unpatriotic, of blasphemy. Tasked with telling a story from the past rather than from imagination, the filmmaker cannot then proceed with her work without implicitly staking a position between these two extremes.
Continue reading “‘Quezon’s Game’: playing it safe”
It is also a solid and enjoyable action-thriller that works less effectively as social commentary.
BuyBust, Erik Matti’s new film, may be about the horrors of the drug war, but it is crafted with an almost-festive sense of theatricality. There is no other way by which this story, about a tough-as-nails squad of law enforcers fighting their way out of a botched operation, could have derived entertainment from familiar and dark realities.
The tropes begin with the contrast between the two main protagonists. Anne Curtis, popular romantic leading lady, plays Nina Manigan, the hardened latest member of the squad, who joins them coming from a traumatic experience—she is the lone survivor of a previous operation also gone terribly wrong. The guilt haunts her, and it shows in her rogue tendencies. She is paired with Rico Yatco, played by mixed martial artist Brandon Vera, the big, bad brawler with a gentle heart, who likes telling Nina that his bottle-cap lucky charm is the key to their salvation.
Nina and Rico, with their tactical commander Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri) and an assortment of bearded and braided teammates, are sent on a buy-bust mission to capture a drug lord ostentatiously nicknamed Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). The operation that sends them to the dark heart of Manila’s slums becomes a literal trap, as the angry locals turn against them, blocking their way out of the colorful but hellish and maze-like settlement. This is more than the typical Hollywood action flick that pits cops against drug cartels in favelas; as Matti himself describes it, BuyBust is ‘a zombie movie without zombies’. The operatives try to make their way to safety by shooting, stabbing, and smashing their way through wave upon wave of bloodthirsty bodies.
Continue reading “‘BuyBust’ is a drug war-themed horror-fantasy movie”
It wants to “change the conversation,” but, at worst, it showcases unhelpful ‘inspiration porn’.
On a rainy Independence Day evening, Leni Robredo, the vice president of the republic, delivered a speech in the theaters of the posh Glorietta mall in Makati City. It was the premiere night for her latest project, the Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival. Ten hours earlier she had led the ceremonies at Luneta Park, saluting the national flag under the rain; now, she appeared before a crowd that included a senator, celebrities, filmmakers, the press, and her countrymen from the fringes of society, that sector she had always pledged loyalty and service to. Her twenty-minute message, albeit ceremonial, was a consistent restatement of her commendable advocacy. Towards the end, she weaved together the themes of the day:
Independence is not just freedom from a foreign invader or colonizers from another nation. It is freedom to choose the meals we want to eat, the places we want to go, the schools where we want to study, the careers where we want to prove our mettle, the things we want to say—and where to say them. This is the kind of freedom I wish for every man, woman, and child in our country today.
As the second highest official of the country, she has much stature but little power, and she has turned to this, embodying moral leadership, turning her office into a beacon of positivity. With the film festival, she issues a call to “spread hope in these dark and difficult times.”
Continue reading “Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival: hoping against reason”
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”
How does the ‘greatest Filipino play’ illustrate our nation?
The reputation of Nick Joaquin’s 1951 play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, towers over the landscape of Philippine literature. Its achievements demand nothing but superlatives; on the theatrical poster of its 1965 film adaptation is this call to attention:
The film, the stars, the setting, the theme, the story, the director—all the things that make this the motion picture to see if a Filipino can go to the theaters only once in his lifetime!
This year (Nick Joaquin’s birth centennial) will see the release of another cinematic adaptation entitled Ang Larawan. At the end of the teaser trailer for the film is a less self-important, but nevertheless equally grand, assessment of the source material: “The greatest Filipino play, now on film.”
Continue reading “The painter is dead: Barthes, and Nick Joaquin’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino’”