‘Perfumed Nightmare’, Neocolonialism and Kidlat Tahimik’s Experiment with Film Form

Perfumed Nightmare by Kidlat Tahimik (1977) is a successful experiment in using film form to deliver a message about neocolonialism, progress, and Filipino identity and aspirations.

It will be useful to first think about which type of film Perfumed Nightmare (Mababangong bangungot, 1977) really is, because it does not comfortably fall under the definition of fictional narrative film alone. Many sequences in the film are, or at least appear to be, shot as cinéma vérité; a few examples being the hoisting of the Zwiebelturm in Bavaria, the visit to the Sarao Motors jeepney factory and the images of the townspeople doing penance. And yet, other sequences are obviously scripted, such as the parodistic meeting scene in which Kidlat Tahimik blows away the Western leaders.

The film does have a plot, and several scenes are set up and executed to advance this narrative. We have scenes, such as when Kidlat wakes up one morning to talk to the photos of beauty queens beside his bed, which are shot in a manner similar to what we would expect in mainstream fictional films. At other times, however, the film breaks suspension of disbelief by looking like a documentary; in multiple scenes, Kidlat plays around while smiling and looking directly at the camera, clearly implying awareness of the cameraman.

By having both fictional and non-fictional elements, the film straddles the boundaries of film types, and elicits credibility in what it presents while at the same time enhancing the impact of the messages it purports. But what is this message that Perfumed Nightmare emphatically carries?

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Kidlat Tahimik’s ‘Balikbayan #1’: a quintessential Filipino indie film

Balikbayan #1 has nothing remarkable for the average Filipino moviegoer, provided he actually gets the unlikely opportunity to watch it. The film would probably come across as a bad movie even, given the Hollywood-satiated audience’s expectations of a ‘movie’: thrilling, spectacular, and highly entertaining.

A miniature galleon art piece on exhibit at the Asian premiere of Balikbayan #1
A miniature galleon art piece on exhibit at the Asian premiere of Balikbayan #1

This is a sad assessment that unfortunately rings true for many of the Filipino films simply called indie. Ironic, given that Kidlat Tahimik is widely recognized as the father of Philippine independent cinema. And here we could nod in agreement before moving on to the next spectacle if it weren’t for a crucial difference: Balikbayan #1 is actually mildly entertaining for its would-be Filipino audience, and this audience wouldn’t even have to know film art to be able to grasp it.

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