Author Topic: Filipino films  (Read 370966 times)

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Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #30 on: Sep 14, 2002 at 01:16 AM »
Musical beds

Noel Vera

Maryo J. de los Reyes' "Laman" (Flesh) is his latest sex flick, and--surprise, surprise--it's pretty good.  Well, maybe not so much of a surprise--de los Reyes has always been a competent craftsman and I've always thought that given good material (or at least material that's solid, without any embarrassing flaws), he can come up with a solid genre job.

In this case the job he comes up with is solidly in the genre of erotic "noir" drama.  A married couple (Yul Servo, Lolita de Leon) come to Manila from the provinces to look for a job; they end up rooming in the house of Servo's best friend (Albert Martinez), who finds himself lusting for the ripe young wife.  Albert plays a gigolo, and one of his most loyal customers is a successful businesswoman (Elizabeth Oropesa) who, in turn, develops a hankering for the young husband (Servo).

Seductions, revelations, realignments follow; it's the kind of melodramatic brew de los Reyes has done before, nothing radically new.  But unlike "Paraiso ni Efren" (Efren's Paradise) there are no gauzy attempts at dream imagery, no unlikely subplots involving NGOs (the script and presumably the dream imagery were by Jun Lana).  Unlike "Red Diaries," starring Assunta de Rossi, he isn't required to showcase some skin-flick diva's "thespic prowess."  "Laman" is simple, small-scaled, and surprisingly honest.  It doesn't make any pretense of aspiring to be more than what it is: a well-made example of itself.

Yul Servo as the husband is persuasively young and innocent--and later, innocence lost, persuasively idealistic; he proves with his sophomore performance that the potential he showed in "Batang West Side" (West Side Avenue) was no lucky accident, though his role here is far simpler.  Lolita de Leon as his wife is refreshingly, 100% real (no surgical enhancements, her); she's good at playing exactly what she is, a young provincial lass corrupted by the big city.
Elizabeth Oropesa is equally good as the sexually voracious employer with a caramel core (think of the whore with the heart of gold become successful entrepreneur)--she makes you believe she has the ruthlessness to succeed in business, yet can still be attracted to Servo's goodness.

Albert Martinez is possibly the gamest actor in the industry right now.  There's nothing he won't do, apparently, from wearing women's clothes ("Scorpio Nights 2"), to performing gay sex ("Gusto Kong Lumigaya" (I Want to be Happy)), to playing unmitigated bastards (everything from "Segurista" (Dead Sure) to this film).  This may be the best role he's had in years, though, if only because it's the first role he's had in years where the character is clearly and carefully drawn.  We come to understand Matrinez's gigolo; we know the need he has for security that leads him into relationships with wealthy women like Oropesa, the same time we know the maddening itch he feels when faced with de Leon's tremendous breasts.  The one instinct is his best hope for a long and happy life; the other is trouble, pure and simple.  

De los Reyes, who's in his fifties, needn't feel embarrassed when compared to the "Young Turk" filmmakers coming out of the woodwork nowadays; he is every bit as adept with shock cuts and innovative camerawork (overhead, handheld, what-have-you) as the best of them.  He uses the "bleached-bypass" effect you saw in the battle sequences of "Saving Private Ryan," the one that leaches out colors; he even includes the trick in "Ryan" where anyone in motion looked as if he were moving under a strobe light.  "Laman" is well-edited, well-shot eye candy, yoked--and this is where de los Reyes has an advantage over all the so-called "Turks" in the business--to a solidly written, realistically plotted script (co-written by de los Reyes himself, with Wally Ching).  

I've heard of "Laman's" tussles with the Movies and Television Ratings and Classification Board (the MTRCB, or, in short, the Censors)--how it was "X'd" twice, and how Regal Studios finally gave in and submitted a shortened version.  It's idiocy like this that makes me doubt the sincerity of government's interest in the arts; all they really seem to care about is in keeping it all clean and neat and toothless, like a travelogue.  Granted "Laman" has no positive moral lesson to impart to adult Filipinos--a characteristic, truth to tell, common in noir--why do the morons in the MTRCB insist in denying us the privilege of judging the film for ourselves (what makes THEM so special?  "Higher moral standards," perhaps, or some self-perceived immunity to smut?)?  "Laman" is definitely no film for a child--problem is, the MTRCB seems insistent on treating me and every mature member of Philippine society like one.  

(Comments? Email me at [email protected])

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #31 on: Sep 15, 2002 at 02:39 AM »
"Tinimbang" judged today

Noel Vera

(Please note: entire plot discussed in close detail)

"Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974) was in many ways a seminal work in contemporary Philippine cinema.  It was one of the rare quality films of the '70s to enjoy commercial success.  It announced Lino Brocka, previously known as a skillful commercial director, as a major Filipino artist.  Few realized the significance of this bright new voice, that it would be the first of many--Mike de Leon, with "Itim" (Black, 1976); Mario O'Hara with "Mortal" (1975); Brocka again, with "Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975), to name a few.  Contemporary and putative rival Ishmael Bernal had actually debuted two years earlier with the masterfully assured "Pagdating sa Dulo" (At the Top, 1972), but that film, despite its excellence, made little impact on the industry.  "Tinimbang" was like a rock flung through a plate-glass window; the film was a herald call, officially the first in what was to be called the '70s Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.

"Tinimbang" tells the story of Junior (Christopher de Leon), son of Cesar (Eddie Garcia), the richest man in town.  Junior lives a relatively happy life; he stays in a huge house, he's popular and good-looking, his sweetheart Evangeline (Hilda Koronel) is the prettiest girl in school.  Then Junior's life unravels: his father turns out to be an incurable lecher; his girlfriend is caught with another boy and summarily married off; Junior himself is seduced by Milagros (Laurice Guillen), the bastard child of the town mayor.  Junior is driven to find comfort among the town's outcasts--in Kuala, a crazed homeless woman, and her lover, Berto the leper.  He eventually realizes that everyone around him--from the loutish youths he calls his friends to the wizened old women he calls his aunts--are ignoramuses, hypocrites, spiritual grotesques.  The film ends with Junior acting out the action described by the film's title--he stares at every town folk in the eye, judges them, and finds them all wanting.  

It's a dramatic moment, and Brocka invests it with near-Biblical significance, as if Junior were some young Christ delivering verdicts right and left (it's hardly a coincidence that the title is taken from the Old Testament's Book of Daniel).  It helps enormously--lends the film more heft and substance (not to mention a broader range of targets for Junior to glare at)--that Brocka worked on a broad canvas, one of the rare if not only moment in his career that he would do so.  Brocka was essentially telling his life's story, drawing from his memories of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, and of the people there.  Junior WAS Brocka--the sensitive young man, disillusioned with the status quo and yearning for something different, something more; he was also Milagros, the politician's bastard (Brocka himself was the illegitimate child of a political figure).  You might say that the secret behind Brocka's intensity, behind his close identification with the outcast and oppressed, was that he himself was an outcast--painful knowledge that would make him more open to the plight of others, to fellow outcasts in life.  

This intense identification he felt towards his characters is the foremost virtue of his storytelling; at the same time, it was his biggest vice.  If he had a tendency to like certain characters--to get under their skin and look through their eyes--he also had an equal tendency to shut others out--to condemn and deny them their full measure of understanding.  

You could see this to a certain extent in Brocka's treatment of Milagros.  Guillen in an interview talked about how she would often chafe under Brocka's detailed direction (Brocka in response would call her his "Jeanne Moreau"--mysterious and neurotic).  Milagros was clearly conceived to be a wordly, sensual woman who would initiate Junior into the mysteries of sex; Guillen (perhaps rebelling against Brocka's rigid direction) adds a hint of empathy, a sense that she's a hurt soul reaching out to a fellow hurt soul.  It might have been more complexity than Brocka bargained for, because after the seduction scene Milagros essentially drops out of the picture.  And you miss her; you want to know what happened to her, how she ultimately fared after her one-night stand with Junior.

An even graver sin is committed against an even more crucial character--Cesar, Junior's father.  As it turns out, Koala had once been one of Cesar's many girlfriends; when she got pregnant Cesar had her baby aborted, and the trauma drove her crazy--she's been searching for her child ever since.  Cesar, interestingly enough, is not unaffected by the affair; certain moments, certain movements of Koala's remind him of the beautiful girl he once knew.  Eddie Garcia plays Cesar beautifully, and his could have been a crucial role in the film, the correlative to de Leon's Junior--where Junior is a young innocent waking up to compassion, Cesar could have been an aged hedonist haunted by it, mirror images lit from different angles.  

But no; these flashes of remembrance and regret don't redeem Cesar in Brocka's eyes, perhaps because the character is too far from Brocka's own to understand, perhaps because he too closely resembles his father (he was reportedly a kind man, but Brocka may not have forgiven him for dying early).  When the time comes, Junior judges Cesar as harshly as the rest--even harsher, perhaps, since Cesar had earlier warned Junior away from Kuala and Berto, and Junior holds this against him.  Milagros and to a greater extent Cesar represent a wasted potential in Brocka's scheme for "Tinimbang," I think.  They fall on the borderline that separates those who deserve Brocka's condemnation and those who deserve his compassion; they are either swept to one side of the border or forgotten, and the film's complexity suffers as a result.

But then Junior's story and climactic act of judgement--to my mind, anyway--aren't the film's true point of interest.  The character of Junior, for one, is hardly original--he joins the protagonist in Federico Fellini's "I Vitelloni" and Timothy Bottoms' character in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Last Picture Show" as one in a gallery of small-town youths who learn about disillusion and heartbreak.   Unlike the young heroes Fellini's and Bogdanovich's films, Junior is something of a self-righteous prig--de Leon plays him as if he's too good for the likes of his father and those hypocritical grannies.  It's a superior stance too easily assumed; you feel he hasn't quite earned the right to do so.

The film's true power comes not from its foreground story but from its marginalia, from its deadpan observation of the absurdity of everyday small-town life, and from its excellent if flawed sketches of Milagros and Cesar.  Its power comes most of all from Kuala and Berto, the town's most miserable inhabitants, and the intense yet simply told story of love found at the bottom of the world.  Cesar feels unfinished and Junior feels downright thin (the flaw may be in the filmmaker's approach than in the performances); Kuala and Berto are fully realized characters (does it help that O'Hara, who plays Berto, wrote the screenplay based on Brocka's outline?).  They are Brocka's version of Jose Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not) with Kuala as Sisa--remember that "Noli" is about yet another dull young man who wakes up to reality, while in the novel's margins dance the unforgettable figure of a madwoman in search of her child…

Lolita Rodriguez, who plays Kuala, captures the smallest, wince-inducing detail about homeless lunatics, from scabied scalp to urine-stained thighs.  O'Hara plays Berto as a man made utterly alone by his leprosy, perhaps not a little mad himself--when he first notices Kuala, it is with the predatory hunger of someone deprived of sex for a long, long time.  Rodriguez and O'Hara make the relationship that blossoms between them effortless, yet utterly real--Rodriguez as Kuala responding to Berto's attentions hungrily, even greedily (the way a child would); O'Hara as Berto suddenly finding himself functioning as guardian and father as well as lover.  The couple are the most successful evocation of love in any of Brocka's films, I think, and by far the most moving.  A great film, possibly Brocka's best except for one other--but that's the basis of yet another article…

(The film can be seen on the Cinema One Channel, in Sky or Home Cable)

(Comments? Email me at [email protected])

Offline FLIM

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #32 on: Sep 15, 2002 at 03:47 AM »
sOUNDS INTERESTING. sMELLS LIKE bong revilla and the ddammmed VRB should spend mor eof their time creating an archive  and preserving the still salvageable films of the past than protecting the carppy and badly done films of the present. I mean why would you protect the producers of LAMAN and whatever crap they released last year or the year before that?CAN ANY LOGICAL INDEPENDENTLY THINKING PERSON JUSTIFY WHY GERRY DE LEONS SAWAS SA LUMANG SIMBURYO IS ROTTING SOMEWHERE  AND BONG REVILL RIDING HIS TUPID PISON saving THE GROSSES OF JOLOGS FRROM OBLIVION. IF THAT IS WHAT THEY CONSIDER A GOOD FILM THEN THIS COUNTRY DESERVES TO GO DOWN IN HELL AND ALL THOSE LOBOTOMIZED FANS SCREAMING THEIR LUNGS OUT " NA MAGANDA ANG JOLOGS " Even BEIN LUMBERA IS APEING THE CAMERA AND FITTING IN. GOSH THIS IS REALLY ATLANTIS BEFORE THE CATACLYSIM!!!!

SET UP AN ARCHIVE QUICK!!!! AND SAVE THOSE PRICELESS FILMS! FORGET THE FUTURE IT AINT THERE FOR PHIL CINEMA!! WE MUST LOOK INTO THE PAST TO FIND OUR SALVATION!!!! WE USED TO HAVE WORLD CLASS FILMMKAERS. NOW WE HAVE NOTHING BUT MEDIOCRE TV DIRECTORS AND THE WHAT HAVE YOUS THINKING THEY CAN MAKE GOOD FILMS!!!!GOD SAVE US ALL!!!!  

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #33 on: Sep 15, 2002 at 04:16 AM »
Got 5 million to spare for saving the films?

I've been trying to get the print of Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos restored for years, myself.

Offline FLIM

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #34 on: Sep 15, 2002 at 10:48 PM »
Hey cough it up yourself. You're a rich guy anyway. restore it and then release it in dvd. Add a commentarybetween you and Mario Hernando. That would be great. :)    

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #35 on: Sep 16, 2002 at 12:48 AM »
"You're a rich guy anyway"

Funny, FLIM!

"Add a commentarybetween you and Mario Hernando"

That would be too one-sided.  Like that dogfighting bulldog in that Mark Twain story who liked to grab the enemy's hind legs--when he faced an opponent that had lost its hind legs, he was lost...

Offline pinoymovies

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #36 on: Sep 16, 2002 at 04:07 AM »
Wasn't "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" produced by Nora Aunor herself thru her NV Productions? I heard the movie did not make any money during its initial release. It must be too "arty and weighty" for the Noranians. Maybe she can finally make a profit from it by releasing it on DVD.

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #37 on: Sep 17, 2002 at 10:52 PM »
Wasn't "Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos" produced by Nora Aunor herself thru her NV Productions? I heard the movie did not make any money during its initial release. It must be too "arty and weighty" for the Noranians. Maybe she can finally make a profit from it by releasing it on DVD.

Question is, does she have enough resources to  do it?

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #38 on: Sep 18, 2002 at 01:51 AM »
Nora's earned more money than any Filipina in history, I think, and lost it as fast. She has the rights, that's all.  It takes from half a million to two million pesos to restore (did a study once); one million dollars if we do it digitally.  Can a DVD sale REALLY earn that much?

Offline pinoymovies

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #39 on: Sep 19, 2002 at 03:41 AM »
Noel, you only need to sell about 50,000 DVD's if we price it at $20 each to break even. Price it higher if you add special features. With all the praise you've been lavishing for this movie, I'm sure it will sell more.  ;D

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #40 on: Sep 19, 2002 at 10:27 AM »
Noel, you only need to sell about 50,000 DVD's if we price it at $20 each to break even. Price it higher if you add special features. With all the praise you've been lavishing for this movie, I'm sure it will sell more.  ;D

Yeah, there's already 2000 PinoyDVD members (potential customers), you only need 48,000 hahaha !

If they will put English caption and find an international distributor, they might get 8000 more LOL. It's an old film and didn't even have any recognition it deserved internationally. Potential foreign customers are limited. What are the chances of it being a profitable venture?

 8)
k

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #41 on: Sep 19, 2002 at 12:52 PM »
50,000 DVDs is an art film's wet dream.

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #42 on: Sep 20, 2002 at 08:48 AM »
50,000 DVDs is an art film's wet dream.

Let's limit that to Filipino art films. That number is actually small for art films released internationally e.g. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ... can easily be accomplished if released in the U.S.


Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #43 on: Oct 05, 2002 at 03:31 AM »
In the mood for lust

By Noel Vera

Erik Matti has directed a number of films ("Scorpio Nights 2," "Ekis" (Crossed), "Dos Ekis" (Double-Crossed)) that he'd written himself, and the results were--well, let's just say they were less than satisfactory.  He'd have noir storylines (teacher involved with student in "Scorpio 2;" kidnap gang collecting ransom in "Ekis;" two lovers on the run in "Dos Ekis"), in the most outlandish settings (a school dorm a la Federico Fellini in "Scorpio 2;" apartments behind a movie screen in "Dos Ekis").  He would throw in grotesque plot developments (professor dressed in drag, raping his student in "Scorpio 2;" dead body in a trunk in "Ekis;" sadistic torture of heroine in "Dos Ekis") that might have been perversely entertaining, only you're too insulted by the nonsense plots to enjoy yourself, however perversely.

This time Matti has decided to work with another writer, Roy Iglesias, and for the first hour at least, the difference shows.  Fresh, pretty-faced Ditas (Aubrey Miles) goes to college in the big city, driven by Nonoy, a tricycle driver in cool shades (Jay Manalo).  Driving down crowded streets, we get Jay's cynical point of view in voiceover, which goes something like: "pussy...all that pussy...if pussies worked hard to earn money, they would make millions...the Philippines will be saved by hard-working pussy...."  Nonoy is actually a pimp, and he's driving his whore to her "casa" (whorehouse) to meet the boss, "Mama" Xedes (Racquel Villavicencio).  

We get to know the people in the "casa," and we watch some fairly funny vignettes--some of them involving a necrophiliac, a man who wants to have breasts, another with unbearably smelly feet--among many others.  "Mama" Xedes' is a professionally-run operation--almost unbelievably so: there's actually a health program going on, as the girls wait in the "casa's" porch to submit their urine specimens to a visiting doctor (most prostitutes go to free clinics).  At one point, "Mama" Xedes asks a girl about to get married to "please don't leave until we find a substitute."  Employees come and go, but the work must go on, uninterrupted...

The film runs into trouble about the time the conflict starts: Nonoy falls in love with Ditas, a development "Mama" Xedes has expressly forbidden, time and time again.  Why?  "Because it's unlucky," she explains.  Granted, falling in love is inconvenient and unprofessional (and hers is a really smooth-running operation, with only an occasional raid to interrupt the workflow): why is she so adamantly about it?  It's an age-old convention; that’s how some whores become whores: the pimp courts them, makes love to them, then introduces them to his "friends."  "Unlucky" is an okay reason, but it doesn't have any urgency to it--certainly not enough to pin the conflict of an entire movie on.  Iglesias' script, unfortunately, never satisfactorily settles the matter, leaving the question, the conflict, and the entire movie hanging in mid-air.  

The movie never recovers from its misstep; earlier it had nothing to prove and no story to follow, so the one-thing-after-another flow of funny anecdotes worked just fine.  Now there's a premise (a pimp and whore must never fall in love), Matti has to work up some momentum, and the movie's more than half-over; he has to build to his intense climax in some twenty minutes.  What should be operatic tragedy comes off more as fast-forward comedy: "Mama" Xedes suddenly has to play villainess, and it doesn't fit what we knew previously about her nurturing nature.  Nonoy has to storm up the stairs, storm off, storm back, ask forgiveness, and basically go berserk for no particular reason.  Ditas--well, Ditas doesn't really do much of anything, except make love.  She copulates with Nonoy in a closet, then in his tricycle; you wonder why she doesn't fall out the closet door (most closets I know don't lock from inside), or tricycle (she leans against a plastic tarp that shouldn't hold her for a second, conveniently ignoring a nearby handlebar).

It's a disappointing development, and with all the shrieking hysterics amidst the strikingly lit alleyways and rain-shower effects, unbidden thoughts come to your mind like: Ditas works in a "casa" and has a pimp?  Pimps are a street prostitute's agent; they search for likely customers, haggle over price, and bring them over for servicing.  A "casa" prostitute depends on walk-in customers; she doesn't need a pimp (if a "casa" prostitute went out to solicit, she'd be moonlighting--and probably encroaching on some street whore's territory).  We see Nonoy waiting around in the "casa's" porch (that porch has got to be the town's social center), and delivering her to various high-powered customers, in which case he's probably not her pimp but the "casa's" bouncer and courier.  Did anyone actually do any research for this movie?

Jay Manalo's Nonoy is intensely played, but he seems incapable of coherent thinking or decision-making--a prime example of a man with gonads for brains.  Which is fine--intelligence in a character is not a prerequisite--as long as the movie recognizes his stupidity and uses it, perhaps satirically, but no: Nonoy is seen as tragic (he's not just an idiot, he's a tragic idiot).  Aubrey Miles' Ditas, aside from not doing much, does the little she does without much talent; her coyly displayed nipples are her entire performance.  Ditas' sister prostitutes--Hazel Espinosa and Pinky Amador come to mind--are a lively, funny bunch that help keep the first hour entertaining, but are dropped in the last half-hour, which kills the movie.  As "Mama" Xedes, Racquel Villavicencio (who seems to be channeling someone, I just can't say who), has languor and mystery and a fantastically sensual low-pitched purr that outclasses every hooker in the picture, including Miles (she shouldn't be a madam; she should be commanding the highest prices).  It's almost criminal of Matti to hobble her performance with a Captain Hook eyepatch, then give her a character that barely makes sense, on paper or on the big screen.  

Villavicencio is actually more than just a character actor, she's a formidable scriptwriter who's worked with Mike de Leon ("Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" (Worried?), "Kisapmata" (Blink of an Eye), "Batch '81")) and Laurice Guillen ("Init sa Magdamag" (Midnight Passion)).  Why didn't Matti ask her to write the script for the film, or at least look it over for problems, or at the very least ask her advice about character motivation and plot development?  It's not as if Villavicencio is a stranger to or disapproves of sexuality in movies--"Init" is one of the most erotic films in Philippine cinema.  She would have been the perfect choice to write "Prosti," only Matti isn't exactly known for making sensible, coherent choices, much less making sensible, coherent movies.

(Comments? Email me at [email protected])

Offline Lex Luthor

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #44 on: Oct 07, 2002 at 02:46 PM »
Quote
In the mood for lust

can't keep smiling when I read the title of your review coz while I was watching it i can't help but notice how Erik Matti does a lame Wong Kar-Wai. everytime he does this slow motion with a recurring musical score,  i just can't help it, it's just too "In the Mood for Love-ish".  >:(

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #45 on: Oct 08, 2002 at 12:57 AM »
That's why I titled my piece thusly.

What, Matti thinks no one watches Wong Kar Wei?  What a poltroon.

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #46 on: Oct 15, 2002 at 12:17 AM »
This is the last of my series of articles on Brocka's three best films:

"Insiang:" one unhappy family

Noel Vera

(Please note: story discussed in detail)

Lino Brocka opens "Insiang" (1976) with a close-up of a pig being stabbed in the throat, blood pouring out like a wide-open faucet.  We see row upon row of headless carcasses, bellies split open from neck to crotch, their pink skin lending them an uncomfortable resemblance to human corpses.  The film's cinematographer, the great Conrado Baltazar, captures the incandescent-lit stink and noise of a busy slaughterhouse like no one else has before, or since.

It's an amazing beginning, an opening image that foreshadows the slaughter to come.  It also challenges you with the thought: "think violence to the flesh is bad?  It's nothing compared to the violence possible to heart and mind."  The slaughterhouse scene is an audacious note struck at the beginning of the film, the message loud and clear: "wait--there is worse to come."

Brocka then takes us to the slum in Tondo where Insiang lives, a cramped little community of cobbled-together shanties located near Smoky Mountain (literally a mountain of smoking garbage, the official dumping ground of Metro Manila at that time).  Again, Baltazar's camera is crucial in capturing the stench of choked-up canals, the trembling of rickety, built-up shanties, the din of brown bodies yelling their way through narrow alleyways.

When we meet Insiang and Tonya, her mother, they are in the process of getting rid of their relatives--a whole passel including children camped out in the middle of the house.  It's a clever scene that establishes Tonya (played by the imperious, still-handsome Mona Lisa) as a strong, sharp-tongued woman, relentless until she has her way; and Insiang (the beautiful Hilda Koronel) as a somewhat passive, gentle soul, embarrassed for her mother's behavior.  Finally, it introduces a third character, when one of the relatives comes out and informs Tonya that they know her true reason for throwing them out: she has a new lover, and she wants privacy with him.

Insiang realizes the truth of this slander in the most embarrassing way possible--at night, listening to the moans of Tonya and Dado, one of the slaughterhouse butchers (stereotypically villainous Ruel Vernal, in possibly the role of his career).  At dawn, Tonya has to face Insiang's accusing stare; Brocka makes the antagonism between the two women intensely palpable. Tonya loses this first round, as she is forced to endure the embarrassment of squatting before Insiang to urinate (they can't afford the luxury of a toilet stall); worse, however, is yet to come.

Insiang's rape--an act quick and brutal as the blow Dado delivers to Insiang's gut--is the initiating event that begins her turnaround.  After Dado, everyone lines up to humiliate and betray her--her mother, by believing Dado and not her; her boyfriend Bebot (a young and pretty Rez Cortez), by taking up her offer to elope, then abandoning her in a motel room.  With nowhere else to go, she returns to Tonya and Dado.

We see the first sign of change in Insiang when Dado comes to her one night and professes his love for her; Insiang realizes what is being offered, and asks a favor of Dado.  Cut to the slopes of Smoky Mountain, where Dado and his boys are gathered around Bebot, pounding him into bloody pulp.  It's a harrowingly violent scene, but you get the sense that it's somehow a preliminary scene--that someone's just flexing her muscles, trying out new things.  Insiang is merely doling out punishment for humiliations suffered; next, she addresses the more serious issue of betrayal, the penalty accordingly more severe...

"Insiang" is arguably Brocka's masterpiece--it's his most intense work, the intensity sustained from beginning almost to end.  It has the best-structured screenplay of all his pictures (by Lamberto Antonio, based on the original television script by Mario O'Hara); it's also one of his most atypical, and atypical of even most other Filipino films.

The intensity and structure go together hand-in-hand; you might say that structure is the source of the film's intensity.  The story is admirably compact, with only three significant characters (Dado, Tonya, and Insiang) in essentially a single setting (Insiang's home--there are scenes elsewhere, but they could also as easily be set at home), the events taking place in the span of a few days to a few weeks.  The relationships are remarkably symmetrical, with everyone manipulating everyone else--Tonya uses Insiang to revenge herself upon her absent husband, Dado uses Tonya to get close to Insiang, Insiang uses Dado to revenge herself on Tonya. Likewise, everyone betrays everyone else--Dado betrays Insiang's innocence, Tonya betrays Insiang's trust, Insiang betrays Dado and Tonya's belief in her innocence and trustfulness.

The film is comparable to Shakespeare's most elegantly plotted play, "Othello," except in "Insiang" the focus is less on Othello's downfall and more on Iago's creation.  Insiang shares many characteristics with Iago--like Iago she is consumed by hatred; like Iago, she is the perfect murderer, able to kill through the indirect manipulation of others.

There are some differences (aside from the obvious one of sex): Iago makes the mistake, once in a while, of holding the knife himself (that's how he's caught); Iago is wholly evil from the start, while Insiang starts out as wholly innocent. Iago, ultimately is punished--Insiang is not, though she commits an even greater crime than Iago: she repents (more on this later).*

"Insiang" is atypical of Brocka's work, in that it's unusually tight and coherent (look at Brocka's other films--"Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Judged and Found Wanting, 1974), and "Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975)--for examples of meandering, scattershot scripts).  It's also the rare Brocka film that displays true ambiguity--by the end of the film, it's almost impossible to establish for certain who was good and who evil, who the raped and who the rapist (again, look at Brocka's other films, particularly the later ones--"Bayan Ko" (My Country, 1985) and "Orapronobis" (Fight for Us, 1989) for simplified notions of good and evil).   You blame and sympathize with all three alike, dancing helplessly in an interlocked chain of lust and loathing.

The film is unique in another sense--Philippine cinema is dominated by the twin themes of love of mother and survival of the family; almost all Filipino films revolve around some aspect of either two.  "Insiang" takes these two great, overarching themes and, with an unmatched ruthlessness, dashes them to the ground, shatters them, reveals them to be the fallacies that they really are.  The film is saying: "there are no guarantees, not from family, not even from mother; if anything, the most painful betrayals are inflicted by mother and family.  You are ultimately alone."

("Insiang" can be seen at the Cinema One channel, at either Sky or Home Cable)

(Comments? Email me at [email protected])

* ("Insiang" suffers from two flaws, one of them self-inflicted.  The first is the premise--that a girl looking like Koronel could ever live in the slums of Tondo (Koronel was, and is, a stunner--when the film screened in Cannes, France Soir ran a picture of her more than twice the size of a far more famous actress, Farrah Fawcett-Majors).  To complaints that Koronel "is too beautiful for the slums," Brocka had the perfect reply: "but Koronel IS from the slums!" Good answer--the unaddressed point, however, is that she didn't stay there; she rose to become a star.  The original screenplay by Mario O'Hara had set Insiang's story in a Pasay slum, which makes all the difference--the proximity of countless bars, nightclubs, and prostitution houses would guarantee that a woman, even one as beautiful as Koronel, can pass by relatively unnoticed.  Brocka decided to set "Insiang" in Tondo, near Smoky Mountain, presumably because he wanted the greater visual impact--drama, in effect, over authenticity.

The second flaw is more serious.  The censors refused to accept that Insiang could be so unforgiving, so Brocka shot a coda in Bilibid prison, where Insiang clumsily explains to Tonya her plan of revenge, then, unbelievably, flings herself upon her mother to ask for forgiveness.  The scene, redundant and obvious, is the only one in the entire film that actually descends into melodrama; worse, it makes total hash of all that came before, and flies in the face of the film's otherwise unflinching sensibilities.

Given the external pressure, one could almost understand the latter flaw; given the magnificent squalor captured by Baltazar's lenses, one could almost forgive the former--if only O'Hara had not recently adapted his own screenplay for the theater stage.  As staged by Tanghalang Pilipino, the play corrects these two flaws: the first by setting the story in Pasay, as originally intended; the second by having Insiang repeat her clumsy final monologue and, simply by altering the tone of her delivery, transforming it into a devastating expression of utter hatred and contempt for her mother)

 

Offline keng001

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #47 on: Oct 16, 2002 at 10:33 PM »
Someone emailed me this article about Mga Munting Tinig. Gil Portes seems to have high hopes with this movie getting a distributor in the US and maybe recognitions from Golden Globes and the Academy. Here's the link:

http://www.inq7.net/ent/2002/sep/30/ent_1-1.htm

Also, I found a review of Mga Munting Tinig (Small Voices) listed at www.mrqe.com. Its one of the films reviewed from the Toronto Film Fest. Didn't see one for Joel Lamangan's movie Hubog. I've been looking for any mention of the Filipino films entered at the festival from the U.S. magazines and this is the first one I've seen. Here's the review:

SMALL VOICES
Starring Alessandra de Rossi, Dexter Doria. Directed by Gil M Portes. 109 min. Contemporary World Cinema. Sep 10, 10pm, Varsity; Sep 13, 10am, Uptown.

Gil M. Portes' tale could teach the cast of Sister Act a thing or two. When the recently graduated Melinda (a blandly benign Alessandra de Rossi) comes to a remote Filipino province to teach at a one-room schoolhouse, she enters her students in a singing competition to combat corrupt teachers and the stigma attached to attending school. While Portes never strays too far into sentimentality, the predicate that song alone can solve these kids' problems is dubious at best. Monsoons, poverty and rebel violence don't just vanish in the face of music. JAMES CRAWFORD

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #48 on: Oct 16, 2002 at 11:30 PM »
SMALL VOICES
Starring Alessandra de Rossi, Dexter Doria. Directed by Gil M Portes. 109 min. Contemporary World Cinema. Sep 10, 10pm, Varsity; Sep 13, 10am, Uptown.

Gil M. Portes' tale could teach the cast of Sister Act a thing or two. When the recently graduated Melinda (a blandly benign Alessandra de Rossi) comes to a remote Filipino province to teach at a one-room schoolhouse, she enters her students in a singing competition to combat corrupt teachers and the stigma attached to attending school. While Portes never strays too far into sentimentality, the predicate that song alone can solve these kids' problems is dubious at best. Monsoons, poverty and rebel violence don't just vanish in the face of music. JAMES CRAWFORD


Ouch !

I am just wondering, what branch of government or film academy selects what film should be sent to international film festivals ? What are the criteria to be sent to these festivals ? Who are the morons responsible for choosing bad movies to be seen by international audience like Sibak ?  If we are sending all these stupid, pretentious, flaky movies, there's just no way we are going to get any attention at all. They get all those kind of movies in Hollywood anyways .. and they do it with style, gloss, and big names stars.  

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #49 on: Oct 17, 2002 at 12:10 AM »
Well...I don't know what grates more, Portes' relentless self-promotion or this Crawford characters' condescending manner.  What does HE know about rebel action, anyway?

That said, good luck to Portes.  I haven't liked any of his films to date, and I'm afraid of being let down by this one too...though I will watch it.  

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #50 on: Oct 17, 2002 at 03:38 AM »
Well...I don't know what grates more, Portes' relentless self-promotion or this Crawford characters' condescending manner.  What does HE know about rebel action, anyway?

That said, good luck to Portes.  I haven't liked any of his films to date, and I'm afraid of being let down by this one too...though I will watch it.  

Wait, didn't he direct Nora Aunor in Merika ? I thought that was one of her best performances ...
you didn't like that either ? You are hard to please man ..

 8)
k

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #51 on: Oct 17, 2002 at 01:11 PM »
I haven't seen 'Merika.  Heard it's one of his best works, though...let's see...

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #52 on: Oct 17, 2002 at 11:27 PM »
I haven't seen 'Merika.  Heard it's one of his best works, though...let's see...

I don't really know any of his works.. maybe I have seen some of them but this one seems to be unforgettable. Otherwise, I wouldn't remember hahaha.

 8)
k

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #53 on: Oct 19, 2002 at 03:27 AM »
Well, I've kept up with many of his recent stuff: that doctor to the barrios movie, Miguel MIchelle, Saranggola, Markova, Gatas sa Dibdib ng Kaaway (which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos)...I don't know why, but I suppose when he made Merika he wasn't his usual self which is, uh, kind of erratic and slipshod.

Offline RMN

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #54 on: Oct 24, 2002 at 02:16 PM »
What do you guys think of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP) which was headed by Imee Marcos and Johnny Litton?
I feel that the idea behind the ECP and the film fund could work if there is a way of making it a viable(and controversy free) venture. The Singapore Goverment just established recently a similar organization, The Singapore Film Commission.
« Last Edit: Jan 17, 2003 at 07:04 PM by rmn »

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #55 on: Oct 24, 2002 at 06:42 PM »
I've talked to Singaporean filmmakers and that Commision they believe is a means of censoring and controlling them.  ECP was a radically different entity--it actually got some unusual films made, mainly because Marcos wanted to look more liberal and because it was all slipping past his control.  I don't know if you can replicate those conditions again...

Offline kakabanas

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #56 on: Oct 24, 2002 at 10:16 PM »
I've talked to Singaporean filmmakers and that Commision they believe is a means of censoring and controlling them.  ECP was a radically different entity--it actually got some unusual films made, mainly because Marcos wanted to look more liberal and because it was all slipping past his control.  I don't know if you can replicate those conditions again...

Hmm, that makes sense. Considering they can't even show girl-to-girl kiss on Ally McBeal on TV in Singapore, this Commission is stinking like a fish.

As for ECP, I hope they bring it back and make quality films again that will showcase only the best in Philippine cinema here and in international film festivals.


Offline Noel_Vera

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Munting Tinig
« Reply #57 on: Oct 25, 2002 at 01:10 PM »
Small doses

Noel Vera

Gil Portes' "Munting Tinig" (Small Voices) is about a teacher  (Alessandra de Rossi) who arrives at a backwater town as substitute for the  school's departing teacher, said substitute being not much older than the  students themselves.  Sounds familiar?  Try Zhang Yimou's "Not One Less."  One  of her students is so poor he has to share his school uniform with his  older brother, both taking turns wearing the uniform to class.  Sounds  familiar? Try Majid Majidi's "Children of Heaven."  To raise morale and bring  class and school together, the teacher enters her students in a contest (in  this case a chorale singing competition), struggling to get the parents' approval where they are mainly interested in using their children as  free labor. Sounds familiar?  Try "Sister Act" and "Stand and Deliver." "Munting Tinig" was written by Adolf Alix Jr, Portes himself, and  Senedy Que, who also rents out art films on various formats (he has a pretty  good collection, too). One wonders if perhaps the writers dipped into Que's collection for ideas, and for inspiration whenever they were creatively stuck while writing the script.

It's perhaps not a fair assumption to make (even with evidence  practically staring at you) and not a big deal even if true (Portes claims in one  of his many press releases that the shared uniform is a true story); I  just don't think it's a good sign when the audience plays a game of "where from?" with your movie.  But what else can you do?  The storytelling  is, to put it kindly, erratic--the picture dwells on the extraneous (de Rossi listening to her landlady (Amy Austria) talk endlessly about her  daughter (the recently departed teacher)), while skimping on the crucial (de  Rossi waking up to learn that every parent has suddenly given their  approval). The camera understates to the point of dullness (some scenes look flat enough for TV), but when approaching a dramatic climax, suddenly loses  all shame (crying is done in long close-ups, to catch every falling drop).   The jokes are lame--one older boy is kidded for falling in love with de  Rossi, another suffers from an incurable case of farting mostly done in poor  taste (which I don't mind) and not very funny (which I do).  One subplot,  about two brothers whose father (Noni Buencamino, excellent and underutilized  as usual) joined the insurgency, has an unintentionally chilling effect in light of recent events: you wonder what they think about his belonging  to a group that possibly plants bombs or kidnaps foreigners (it's almost the basis for a far more interesting film altogether).

This being a small-budgeted, small-scale film, characterization should  play a crucial role; unfortunately it's mostly a hit-or-miss affair (a  mostly miss-than-hit affair).  De Rossi's teacher is the standard-issue  stereotype of the noble educator, with a few off-key details: she comes to town  hoping to do a bit of service and brings along (as symbol, probably  unintentional, of her higher cultural and financial capabilities) her flute. She has inchoate ambitions about making a difference, but depends on the  allowance her mother sends her to buy boxes of ice candy and the odd chorale  costume (must be a generous-sized allowance there).  And she's so damned passive--all she does through most of the film is walk around, eyes  huge with indignation at the tremendous inadequacies of the Philippine educational system (what, doesn't she watch the evening news, or read  the papers?).  When she's not being shocked she's an open bucket, ready to receive every passing soul's two centavos' worth of wisdom and/or  advice (Austria being her landlady dumps about a hundred pesos nightly).

The defect is all the more glaring when you realize just how easy it  would have been to make de Rossi's character interesting--simply ask: what  kind of person is crazy enough to want to become a schoolteacher?  Worse,  what kind of person is crazy enough to want to become a schoolteacher in the provinces? De Rossi's character could have been hiding some kind of  inner inadequacy--a hunger to prove herself to her mother, maybe, or a  driving need to live up to her father's idealism.  She could initially come off  as being too aggressive, or too strident, or too demanding; or, like the teacher in "Not One Less," totally indifferent to everything except the promise of extra money--anything to contrast with the eventual  nobility. Even a villain would help; Dexter Doria shows some snap and bite early  on, as the school supervisor who sells ice candy in her spare time, but by latter half of the picture her supervisor is as soggily supportive of  de Rossi as the rest.  Purely virtuous protagonists are the most difficult  to dramatize; they need a tremendous amount of care and attention to  detail to bring off convincingly, otherwise they end up looking like plaster  saints. Portes with his casual, off-the-cuff approach fails, his audience fails  to believe accordingly, and the film as a result fails to come to life.

Which is a pity.  Education IS a pressing issue, the film DOES have its small-budgeted heart in the right place; and, watching it on its first night in the theaters, it's annoying to see just how few people  actually bothered to go see it at all.  I'm tempted to recommend the film  anyway, for the abovementioned reasons and to give it a fighting chance to be  seen; I just can't bring myself to recommend it in a very large voice, is  all.

(Comments? Email me at [email protected])

 

Offline Noel_Vera

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #58 on: Oct 27, 2002 at 01:08 AM »
My mistake--Gina Alajar plays the landlady, not Amy Austria.  Apologies to the actresses involved.

Offline RMN

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Re:Filipino films
« Reply #59 on: Oct 28, 2002 at 12:38 PM »
Has any one of you seen Tanging Yaman? I'm just wondering if it was recorded using original (live) sound.