The painter is dead: Barthes, and Nick Joaquin’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino’

How does the ‘greatest Filipino play’ illustrate our nation?

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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.”

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On Lualhati Bautista’s ‘Dekada ’70’

Not merely a ‘Martial Law novel’.

I’ve been seeing the novel Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, on National Bookstore’s Filipino shelves for as long as I can remember. That is the certain mark of a work’s membership in the literary canon, as far as the economics of required readings are concerned. But somehow, in all my years of schooling, I had evaded all the panitikan teachers who would include this novel in their syllabi. Either that, or I’m suffering a combination of faulty memory and a past fear of classic literature.

It happens that I’m currently atoning for my past disinterest in classics, and a friend lent me a copy of the progressive pocket-sized novel. (I imagined—framed—my friend as a concerned citizen discreetly sharing subversive readings to a fellow citizen, for enlightenment in these dark times.) I have no idea when, or if at all, I would ever have read this novel if not for this friend. Dekada ’70’s cover has intimidated me all these years, after all. Every time I would see its stark red, overtly political cover illustration, my mind’s interest-switch flips off. I am all for appreciating realist, social-political narratives on a medium like film, but I’m a slow reader, and I only have so much reading capacity to spare when it comes to grim literature.

I’m glad that I proved my own expectations wrong. Everyone mutters, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the reality is that for the majority of books we lay our eyes upon at the bookstore, we pre-screen them by sight. By their covers, that is. Certainly, we could read the synopsis, cross-check with reviews or recommendations, but before any of this can be accomplished, we would already have instinctively formed prejudices on a book by its face. The book design for Dekada ’70 belies the novel’s domestic tone: there are grim moments in this story, true, and the anxious climate of the titular era is the omnipresent spirit of the narrative, but the entire tale is depicted in such a welcoming, informal manner that the political becomes personal—what would otherwise have caused distant despair becomes a matter of intimate concern.

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Pagsasalin, paglalayag

Sa pagsasalin ng mga kuwento, ang mga banyagang kaligayahan at pasakit ay ganap naring nagiging atin.

Takaw-pansin ang makulay na pabalat ng Layag. Tila pino itong lambat na humuhuli sa madulas at malabnaw na atensiyon ng mga katulad kong mahilig luminga-linga sa bookstore. Nang makita ko kung tungkol saan ang aklat, hindi na ako nakatakas sa pang-aakit—madalian ko nang binili.

Paano ba naman, nagkataon na may kasalukuyan akong pagsisikap na magbasa ng mga akdang klasiko. Minsan hindi ko matiis ang pagbabasa ng ‘importanteng’ panitikan. Isang antolohiya ang Layag ng mga maiikling kuwento at salaysay ng mga sikat na Europeong manunulat, ng mga tulad nina Guy de Maupassant at Luigi Pirandello. Halos lahat ng mga awtor ay pinanganak noong gitna hanggang hulihan ng ika-19 na siglo; karamihan ng mga akdang kasali ay naglalarawan ng mundong Kanluran sa panahon ding iyon, at sa mga batang dekada ng ika-20 na siglo.

Sa totoo, akala ko dadagdag lang ang Layag sa tambak ng mga babasahing iniipon ko sa bahay, ngunit sinimulan ko agad at mabilis ko itong natapos. Hindi ko kasi maitanggi ang husay ng sari-saring estilo na itinatampok sa lipon ng mga kuwento. Iba-iba ang pakiramdam na dinudulot nito: may nakakatawa (Ang Pagligo sa Araw ni Janko Jesenský), may nakakasabik (Pagtakas Tungo sa Buhay na Walang Hanggan ni Stefan Zweig), may nakakapanlumo (Ang Hosier at Ang Anak Niyang Dalaga ni Steen Steensen Blicher), may nakakatakot (Ang Horla ni Guy de Maupassant) o nakakakilabot (Satan ni Ramón del Valle-Inclán). Ngunit, pinakamadalas, ang naiiwang pakiramdam ng mga kuwento ay pagkalumbay. Marahil ay dahil ito sa paksa, lugar at panahon na pinagmumulan ng mga kaganapan: ang romantikong Europa ng nakalipas na siglo. Sa pagsunod ko sa mga kaganapang inilalarawan ng mga salita, kusa na itong ipinipinta ng aking isip sa mapanglaw na mga kulay. Natural sa Layag ang taglay nitong nostalgia.

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Cinemalaya 2017 review: all 9 full-length and 12 short-feature films

A round-up of all the main competition entries in this year’s festival.

“See the big picture,” goes the tagline for the 13th edition of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, the premiere indie film fest in the country. Nine full-length films and twelve short features contribute to a mosaic snapshot of Filipino society, delivered in patches of varying intensity and color.

Disclaimer: these reviews avoid revealing major story spoilers, but other elements, like themes, are discussed extensively. Read at your own risk.

Nabubulok

A husband takes flight when his wife goes missing.

Nabubulok in style and spirit feels akin to a Brillante Mendoza work. In this film, a crime drama based on a true story, the sound effects are spare, the lighting is natural, and the camera has a habit of following the shadow of everyday characters in short walks around town. It even has that subplot of a family working together, pooling money for an urgent purpose, seen in Thy Womb and Ma’ Rosa. But this is not quite cinema verité: there is more overt acting, and finer cinematography than a Mendoza film would tolerate.

Given the premise and the film’s early scenes, one might expect a crime thriller. But save for a mid-story encounter, the film never really provides the heart-pounding type of suspense. This is by design, not by fault—what the film provides is an atmospheric, slow-burning kind of thriller. Nabubulok could benefit, however, from tighter scripting of dialogue. When Ingrid (Gina Alajar) asks around about her missing cousin, she and others say the same things they have learned so far to each new character they encounter, and the repetitiveness drags the suspense.

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When the movies were still projected from film reels

I’m old enough to recall the time when couriers still zipped between moviehouses, reels of film on their shoulders.

Since 2008’s The Dark Knight, I’ve been anticipating every Christopher Nolan film with the excitement of a teenage girl waiting for the next One Direction album. Such is my confidence in the quality of Nolan’s films that I splurged on an IMAX ticket to see his latest film, Dunkirk, without reading a review or hearing anyone’s recommendation beforehand. (Dunkirk is a film that the aforementioned teenage girl would have also looked forward to, because One Direction’s Harry Styles is in its cast.)

I had forgotten how impressive, how immense, these IMAX screens were. I plopped down on my seat and, wild-eyed, gaped at just how immersive the projected image was. The screen was alarming in its vastness, in how it covered so much of my field of vision. Dunkirk began with a scene of soldiers running from gunfire; when the camera started shaking, I worried that my eyeballs also had to jerk around so much just to follow the action on-screen. Thankfully, the rest of movie had its camerawork done in steady hands. By the end of it, I was satisfied, thinking my cash was well-spent.

Wooden sculptures of a sitting figure (a Cordilleran bulol) and a movie camera, from an exhibit by Kidlat Tahimik.
A depiction of the Cordilleran bulol as a filmmaker: detail from a Kidlat Tahimik exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, during Cinemalaya 2014. (Photo by the author.)

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