Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sa North Diversion Road (2005)

Sa North Diversion Road (Dennis Marasigan, 2005)
English Title: On The North Diversion Road

Present Philippine cinema can ironically be best represented by those which weren't crafted from real film stocks but by those films that are, at their most elemental, composed of ones and zeroes. Digital filmmaking, the supposed saviour of Philippine cinema, has allowed beginning independent filmmakers to actually craft their dream projects without the peering eyes of business-minded studios who's only goal is to get money back from their huge investments. Digital filmmaking has allowed media companies and culturally-driven businessmen to create mini-film festivals giving grants to filmmakers to create films from worthy screenplays. Montreal and Berlin film festival winner Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Auraeus Solito, 2005) is a product of one of those grants. Dennis Marasigan's Sa North Diversion Road (On The North Diversion Road) is another. Not all the films produced from these grants are exactly excellent, some turn out to be too nebulous, idealistic, or too independent to be of merit. Gladly, Marasigan's film is quite good; brilliant, actually.

Sa North Diversion Road is a screen adaptation of Tony Perez' play of the same title. I've seen an amateur staging of the play and sad to say, the result wasn't really memorable. The high school production was littered with overacting and lines being thrown out, wasting whatever wit Perez injected into his opus. The film is infinitely more understandable, more memorable than that sorry excuse for a staging that I have witnessed. The story is actually quite simply. A married couple is cruising by the North Diversion Road, the highway that connects Metropolitan Manila to the northern provinces. The couple is on the verge of break-up, with the husband recounting a recent philandering. In a stroke of genius by Marasigan, he edits the film with ten of the different scenarios recounted from a recurring point of the story. The scenarios range from comedic, dramatic, and hyphaluting --- all in different levels of brilliance.

The biggest difference between Marasigan's adaptation and Perez's written play is the fact that Marasigan has forever etched Perez's characters with recognizable faces - that of Irma Adlawan and John Arcilla. Perez's play, no matter how wittily written, can be ruined by who's playing who - in that staging I saw, by students who are far too young to understand the rigors of the play they've chosen to stage. Another difference is that Marasigan chooses to have Adlawan and Arcilla play the couple in each of the ten scenarios --- the staging I saw had different annoying non-actors battle it out as to who can overact the most in each scenario. The casting of Adlawan and Arcilla is perfect. Adlawan is a brilliant actress who is only getting the attention that she deserves nowadays. Her portrayal as the wife is pitch-perfect and whenever she changes roles, she shifts gears and there is no sign of any difficulty in portraying a nagger from that of a genius academician. Arcilla supplies Adlawan's mastery with constant control. He complements Adlawan when Adalawan's role requires her upstaging the husband and when it is his time to take control of the film, he does it with impressive emotionality.

One of the few misgivings of digital filmmaking is that visuals usually suffer. There is something with digital filmmaking that gives off a fake sense of color and depth with its visuals. Sa North Diversion Road does suffer from that type of visual downgrading but Marasigan understands the limitations of his medium. Instead of forcing the medium with epic sweeps and crazy visual gimmicks, he limits his canvas, making use of the limited space of the interior of the vehicle, occasionally giving the viewers an overview of the highway, or in the flashbacks, some close-ups and character-driven cinematography. It's pure filmmaking and Marasigan does it wonderfully: nothing fancy, just a pretty much faithful adaptation of Perez's play. He draws everything from the material, multiplies it tenfold, spices it up with his understanding of what the material wants to say, and most importantly, trusts his two actors enough to grant them the driver's seat to take the film places.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice review! Thank you for giving me a rough idea on how to write director's notes. =)