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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Apocalypse Child (2015): crash, tumble, subside

A character-driven drama with force, grace and flow, like a wave crashing and receding.

Apocalypse Child is a film filled throughout with short, seemingly filler shots of characters enjoying the famous waves of Baler. These are images of a sunny, slow-mo disposition, the frames filled with luscious visuals of surf and skin. It is beautiful enough that the film is worth watching even if it didn’t have a narrative, as a music video would.

The visual motif of sand and sea is appropriate for a film that has consistently been called a refreshing contribution to Philippine cinema. (Even its playful, almost absurd trailer is wonderfully unique.) Its distinctive flow and flavor washes over its viewers, then withdraws and drains out with the steady rhythm of water. Seeing Apocalypse Child, for any Filipino cinephile, is almost like the experience of seeing a marvelous underwater world for the first time.

(Or so I imagine, I haven’t learned how to swim yet. But it doesn’t matter—lead actor Sid Lucero, who plays the role of a surfing champion, didn’t really know how to surf yet when he acted in the film.)

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Timor-Leste: the other Catholic country of Asia

Filipinos have much to learn and ponder about from the history of the second Catholic country of Asia, Timor-Leste.

A recent column by Dr. Michael Tan about Southeast Asian relations made me search the Internet about Timor-Leste, a nation which up to that point merely lurked at the fringes of my awareness.

The trigger for me was Dr. Tan’s statement that “the Philippines can no longer claim to be the ‘only Christian’ or even ‘only Catholic’ country in southeast Asia.” It turns out that the claim of being the only significantly Christian nation in this region of the world, an idea that surely provides many of us Filipino Catholics a sense of import, has been inaccurate for thirteen years now. (I am quite sure that much of the media coverage of Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines earlier this year involved parrotting this statement.)

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Three films from Cinemalayà 2013

I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.

The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013, with chandeliers and the word ‘cinemalayà’ in colored lights
The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013

Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.

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