‘Citizen Jake’ is not a movie

It is not journalism either, but, by bending fiction, it moves towards the same goal: a presentation of the truth.

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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.

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‘Delia & Sammy’: despicable seniors

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.

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Review: ‘Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?’ (1998)

Art, insecurities, and youthful passion drive the classic rom-com starring the famed 1990s love team.

An enthusiastic crowd converged at a cinema complex in Quezon City, on a Tuesday night in early January. The occasion: the premiere of the restored film, Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?, which features the ’90s love team of Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin. The people in attendance, many of them barely containing their excitement, proved that the pair can still rally a good crowd of supporters.

The actors may have been glamorous in their presence, but the true star of the night was the film itself, a classic Star Cinema romantic comedy. After the screening, a few guests started comparing the movie to entries from the recently-concluded Metro Manila Film Festival. A fellow guest, with a mixture of disgust and an aficionado’s righteousness, cried, “Don’t compare!” Because it is absurd to label an old film as formulaic, when it hails from a time when such storytelling conventions were still being established.

And that is true. Let us take a closer look at what exactly makes this rom-com a classic.

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Baguio: the eternal and the environmental

Baguio’s unique character as a Philippine city requires a similarly unique dedication to its protection.

Baguio is a young city. It is only over a century old—practically an infant among the historical cities and towns of the Philippine archipelago. As recently as the turn of the 20th century, while ilustrados and invaders quarreled over the serious matter of sovereignty in the lowlands, the area known as Kafagway was only a grassland inhabited by humble Ibaloi folk, quietly tending to their cattle. A few years later, after inevitably winning the Philippine-American War, weary Americans stumbled upon this cradle of a land in the mountainous Cordillera region. Exhausted by lowland Luzon’s tropical air, they must have fallen homesick at the first whiff of Kafagway’s chilly midland winds, so they quickly decided that they will build a resort town in that place. Baguio was born.

Flowers with dewdrops at Burnham Park, Baguio City.
Flowers at Baguio’s Burnham Park.

Yet, despite this young history and the absence of a Spanish heritage that most of the rest of Luzon Island enjoys, Baguio has already attained for itself an immortal character. The numerous artists and authors who have made this place their home attest to the sense of the eternal pervading the midland city.

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‘Honor Thy Father’ (2015): a gripping, grounded crime drama

Strong acting, a metaphorical setting, and resonating themes bring this John Lloyd Cruz-starrer to excellence.

Honor Thy Father begins with a shot of the protagonist Edgar (John Lloyd Cruz) breaking the ground in a lawn in the Cordilleran highland city of Baguio. It is foreshadowing, both in a visual sense as Edgar later in the story breaks into a different territory with his brothers, and on a metaphorical level, as he would in the course of the story break and shake up his relationships, with people and with the land.

The setting maintains a strong, and beautiful, presence throughout the film. Baguio subtly comes to represent both the hopes of his family, and the instability and chaos they find themselves facing. Edgar’s wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), at one point talks about going to the mountains to escape their problems (a genius bit of characterizing detail, because for most Filipinos who live in lowlands, Baguio is a mountain city, and only highland urban residents would talk of going further up the mountains). Edgar does travel to still-higher and remoter lands of the Cordilleras, where he seeks his parents and brothers for help; his brothers, meanwhile, make a living as miners, blasting their way deeper into the mountains in search of minerals. In Honor Thy Father, the rolling urban terrain is a symbol of conflict; the dusty mine lands, of refuge and strength.

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