Roll VTR

28 10 2008

Raya Martin seems fascinated with duality and dichotomy. On the surface, the two films he released this year that seem to parallel each other, Now Showing and Next Attraction, are both two separate films in one. Now Showing, at almost 5 hours, is a small epic about a girl named Rita in her childhood and again as a young adult. Separating the two sections are muted and deliberately damaged images of a 1939 Filipino film. An air of quiet sadness lingers in the two stories of Rita. The first story emphasizes her innocence while the second focuses on its irreversible loss, as past and present conflict with each other. Now Showing differs considerably from typical narratives in many ways, and yet it is able to achieve the same intensity of poignancy as other emotionally charged films, even with its abundance of subtlety and absence of theatrics. Now Showing is visually dynamic but it is in his highly effective use of sound that I admire Martin the most (somewhat closely approximating the genius of David Lynch in this department).

Next Attraction loosely connects with Now Showing in some of the film’s setting (a house, a hotel room and Cubao). It opens with a long, static, voyeuristic shot of Jacklyn Jose’s character sitting on a chair in a familiar backyard, a scene that would set the tone and the mood of the film’s first half, which is a behind-the-scenes look (literally) at the making of a short film based on a true story. The camera remains steady as it observes actors, the director and the rest of the crew go about in their business of shooting the film. We only hear actors delivering their lines but never actually get to see any scene they are filming. In the second half, we see the finished product, although it is (sadistically) muted. The audience is left to piece the puzzle together and connect the disjoint between image and sound. The title is also an interesting play of connotations reflecting its thematic dichotomy between movie-making and personal struggles, as well as fiction and reality.

On the opposite end of the Filipino experimental indie spectrum is Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Imburnal, a baffling, 200-minute barage of static, beautifully shot images and sounds. Like Now Showing, it is fragmented, disjointed, atmospheric, reflective, deceptively simple and visually interesting. Unike Now Showing, it is opaque, emotionally disconnected, endless and painful to watch. Exciting piece of film but nearly unwatchable without any payoffs in the end (but who knows, maybe that is the point).

Finally, Melancholia is Lav Diaz’s latest eight-hour opus (short by comparison to his other works!). It’s a meditation on the nature of sadness and disintegration as seen from the perspective of the loved ones left by the desaparacidos. Diaz is an expert at framing his static shots, and he is especially effective with the quiet, dialogue-free scenes that we slowly and curiously watch unravel.

I remember thinking a few years ago that the digital indie filmmakers of the recent wave were not nearly as bold or groundbreaking as their foreign counterparts. Of course, I have been proven wrong.


Boo, Pathetic

24 10 2008

Let’s celebrate now all this flesh in our bones

– Bjork, I See Who You Are

But I can’t because I’m a coward.


18 10 2008

Cinemanila started today but before kicking off a 13-day movie-watching spree (wherein Gateway temporarily becomes a second home), I finished the longest film I have so far experienced: Bela Tarr’s 1994, seven-hour masterpiece called Satantango, an intriguing mix of dark humor, brooding melancholy and long tracking shots of backs of people walking, set on a rain washed Hungarian village after the collapse of communism. Here is a sample, one of the most astonishingly hypnotic opening shots of any film. 10/10 (of course!)

California Dreamin’, from neighboring Romania, also provided a sharp political satire about a group of American soldiers who become involved in local village affairs after their train is refused passage by a local railway station master. Although it would have benefited from further edits (the director and sound editor sadly died in a car crash in 2006), the hilarious, energetic picture says as much about American military intervention in world affairs as it does about the Romanian psyche. 8.5/10

Noise, on the other hand, is an Australian thriller that eventually becomes interestingly philosophical. 8/10

ETA (Day 2)

United Red Army is a 189-minute of tense, gripping, violent, depressing, semi-fictionalized account of Japan’s student underground communist movement in the 60s and 70s. An otherwise excellent and engaging picture, it was a bit unfortunate that the final thirty or so minutes became an extended average hostage drama. 8/10

Among the shorts, I would probably give the grand prize to Surreal Random MMS Texts Para Ed Ina, Agui, Tan Kaamong Ya Makaiiliw Ed Sika: Gurgurlis Ed Banua . With a promising title that is almost as long as the short film itself, it more than delivers (being both hypnotically surreal and random!). It was sort of a montage of celphone photos taken in the Middle East set against the words of a Pangasinan poem, interspersed with occasional shocking close-ups of an eye getting stitched (an homage perhaps to Bunuel’s surreal eye-slicing in Un Chien Andalou). Runner-up award would go to Undertakers, which, although set in India with a primarily Indian cast and crew, feels very Filipino in its humor, warmth and theme.

Day 3

Colombia’s PVC-1 is reminiscent of both Greengrass’ United 93 and Sokurov’s Russian Ark with the tense, gripping drama of the former and the stylistic conceit of the latter. Shot in one continuous take (!), the film follows a woman and people around her trying to get rid of a bomb stuck on her neck. Low budget but highly effective. 8/10

Day 4

Ken Loach explores exploitation of migrant labor in London in his latest It’s a Free World. While Loach’s overt political belief could probably rub off the audience in the wrong way, the film realistically paints the complexities and ills of capitalism. At its center is a financially struggling single mother, a character who is both nurturing and exploiting, sympathetic and pathetic. 8.5/10

Day 5

Next Attraction is the first film from Raya Martin that I have seen seen and oh my, what a lovely initiation! (Will reserve further comments after seeing his other 2008 pic Now Showing.) 9/10

The Band’s Visit, Cinemanila 2008 Best Picture Winner, is pleasant, agreeable, moderately funny and a bit of a let down after having finished a more ambitious and daring film prior. 7.5/10

Day 6

Rest day!

Day 7

You, the Living is a film composed of several scenes (some are deadpan hilarious) shot by a static camera documenting dreams (and maybe realities) of several characters in a Swedish city. It starts of with a man waking up from a dream about bomber planes over the city. The last, very beautiful shot suggests a full circle; several planes fly over the city. 8.5/10

Day 8

Confessional is a sleek, fast, semi-hyper and very entertaining local digital film (winner of this year’s Best Picture, SEA Competition). 8/10

Day 9…

…is Melancholia day. There were initial troubles in the screening but things turned out okay even if we only got to see the film’s first hour after the final credits rolled. Melancholia is Lav Diaz’ 8-hour political and metaphysical meditation on the various manifestations and repercussions of sorrow. My favorite scene (most of them last for at least five minutes) have to be the burial procession of the Aetas, with men carrying the three dead bodies forward as the women followed chanting guttural, dissonant cries against the rhythm of a guitar. Also, Sagada in the film was serene, mysterious and charming (if not a bit melancholic on rainy days). 9/10

Day 10

The Amazing Truth About Queen Racquela tells the story of a 22-year old Filipino transgender who dreams of Paris and Europe. It also happens to be this year’s funniest Cinemanila entry by a mile. 8/10

The Red Awn is a Chinese film about a father and his son, and the countryside and the city. 7.5/10

And finally, Imburnal takes the title for the most baffling film I have ever seen by a landslide. Fragmented, discordant, (beautifully shot) and just plain weird, it was half the running time (200 minutes) of Melancholia but felt twice as long. It was perfectly understandable for half the audience to walk out of the theater during its first half, and staying for its duration actually provided no payoffs whatsoever. We checked the synopsis after the screening and wondered whether we saw the same film. And yes it won Best Film at the Digital Lokal Competition of Cinemanila. 6/10

Day 11

For the finale I saw Raya Martin’s Now Showing. And it was wonderful, all 5 hours of it. 9/10

Captivating Caramoan…

15 10 2008

…On the Cusp of Commercial Development

Instead of turning to Boracay or Palawan as a model for tourism development, I suggest Caramoan look toward Sagada, a success story of community tourism management with a notable absence of Manila and foreign capitalists. And I guess the best way to do this is to keep it inaccessible from mass tourists. Construct an airport and things will go downhill. Considering that an airport is planned in 2010, we have a year and a half more before that happens at least.

Caramoan’s charms lie not really on its wonderful karst landscapes nor on its powder-fine beaches nor on its clear, emerald waters, but on its unique marriage of nature, people, food and culture. A town deeply steeped in Catholicism (we saw several processions venerating the Virgin Mary) and rurality, Caramoan has a laid-back atmosphere where people go about with their everyday lives as they have for decades, and where you still become the object of curious stares from locals. When we hopped from one island to the next, we found ourselves totally alone (and this was on a weekend), except maybe for a solitary, persistent cat in Sabitang Laya (the island’s own Isadora). All these are bound to change with the town’s inevitable transition from its nascent version of tourism. If this happens, there will always be Casiguran.

More photos here.


10 10 2008

Went to Greenbelt Cinema to see El Orfanato (The Orphanage) in the Spanish Film Festival only to find out tickets were sold out. So I headed to the bookstore and read a book about Cagraray Island (Albay) instead. Cagraray becomes the newest entry in must-see sights in Bicol, a list that also includes Catanduanes, Calaguas in Cam Norte, Tiwi-Sagnay Road in Albay/Cam Sur and Ticao Island in Masbate.

Speaking of Bicol, we are off to Caramoan this weekend. Keeping my expectations low because of the weather (damn easterlies!) but since I haven’t been in the sea in five months, anything with a beach is fine by me.

Finally, I remember my eyes watering when I saw this sublime photo exhibited in The Block last year. (Yes, I cry over photos sometimes.) This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do photography.

Extra Service

7 10 2008

Serbis, the first Filipino full-length feature to compete in Cannes in more than 20 years, caused a semi-controversy in the film fest this year for its debated merits and certain graphic scenes that unsettled audience/critic sensibilities (including the bloody and pus-sy bursting of a boil, as well as the token fellatio scene). Serbis may not be the best Pinoy film of the year nor will it even pass as Brillante Mendoza’s best (2007’s Foster Child, with less theatrics and shock value, was more powerful) but it is definitely the director’s most ambitious and expansive work. Which is somewhat unfortunate because there is not nearly enough going on in it.

Serbis shows a day in the life of a family inside a run-down movie theater turned prostitution den called Family. The restless camera, suggesting constant motion, follows a host of characters as they go about living; services are rendered, secrets are exposed, decisions are made. As a film about characters we might care about, it fails. But as an homage/critique of Philippine cinema and an indictment of poverty, exploitation and all things rotten present in Philippine society, it may have a little more to say.

Serbis screens daily at the UPFI until Oct 10 I think. Consider yourselves properly warned however.

Maybe Love Triangle

6 10 2008

You have to come to discover what you want

What I want is not to want what isn’t mine

But I am desire

-Tori Amos, Another Girl’s Paradise

Someone I know may or may not be in love with a certain someone, who may or may not love back the someone I know and who may or may not be in love with another someone that both of them know, whom the someone I know may or may not love too. Oy.