Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Kubrador (2006)



Kubrador (Jeffrey Jeturian, 2006)
English Title: The Bet Collector

A local film reviewer, after watching Jeffrey Jeturian's latest film Kubrador (The Bet Collector), declared the director as the next Lino Brocka. Brocka, one of the most famous directors who emerged from the Philippines' second golden age of cinema, is internationally known for portraying the lower class citizens of Manila: the slumdwellers of Insiang (1976), the male prostitutes of Macho Dancer (1988), and the urban outcasts of Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975). However, limiting Brocka to such genre is a grave offense to the artist who also dabbled in melodrama, comedy, and period pieces. Jeturian's works are similar to the genre Brocka is most known for, his Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2001) and Pila Balde (Fetch a Pail of Water, 1999) are scathing examinations of the cruelties of poverty. Like Brocka, Jeturian also made two comedies, Bridal Shower (2004), and the delightful mockumentary Bikini Open (2005). He also made Minsan Pa (One Moment More, 2004) a Visayan love story that is pregnant with potential emotionality that I immediately declared it as one of the finest films the year it was released when I walked out of the theater in solemn awe. Jeturian may not yet be Brocka, but he is on his way there.

Jeturian's Kubrador is a result of his collaboration with lawyer Joji Alonzo (who also produced Minsan Pa). I'd like to think that their collaboration is a sort of revision for Jeturian as he has grown in subtlety and artistry when his works are financed by the film-loving esquire. It features Gina Pareno as Amy, a bet collector, and is set in a squatters' area in Manila. The time frame of the film is a few days before All Souls' Day, where most Filipinos would take the day off to visit the graves of their departed loved ones. Amy, however continues to collect bets for the game of jueteng, a numbers game, dodging policemen, and urging the poor dwellers of the squatters' colony to hand over the few pesos they have in the hopes of winning.

Jueteng is a game that has transcended the few pesos wagered in its name because it is always linked to Philippine politics. The game after all, caused the overthrowing of then President Joseph Estrada when he was accused of collecting money sourced from the numbers game. Up to now, jueteng hounds the current president whose husband is rumored to be linked to the illegal gambling game. Kubrador can easily be misread as having political motivations, but it is clear that outside the opening information given regarding the game and a few linkages to bribery of local congressmen which is already of common knowledge, the film is clearly humanist. One just has to observe and absorb the detailed portrayals of Amy's daily routines to sense the virtues that still exist within the pervading stench of poverty of the slums of Manila.

Jeturian's film is considerably slow-paced and the plot is quite sparse. Aside from the introductory sequence where the cops chase down a jueteng operator atop the roofs of the slums area, the film patiently follows Amy as she goes about her routine. Through the routine, we are introduced to the few slumdwellers, and the other personalities who populate the clockwork operations of the numbers game. Jeturian clearly doesn't want to label these people with conventional notions of morality. His interest is first and foremost the human condition. The policemen aren't jerks and they also subscribe to betting in the illegal game while Amy is in their custody. The higher up of the game, a busy man kept inside an office where piles and piles of money are literally shoveled to be deposited to the bank the next day, is unusually friendly and even exchanges in erstwhile jokes with the underdressed Amy and her companion for that day. There's a point of humor that runs throughout the film - Amy, who deals with numbers and needs to memorize number combinations for her clients, has a mnemonic technique that has her linking numbers with everyday situations and observations: grief and death, a frog and a cowardly kid, and a toddler and testicles. Jeturian has clearly mastered depicting real humans in his film with Kubrador, and this meditative observation of these humans is more watchable than tired contrivances that dominate Philippine mainstream cinema.

Yet one can critique Kubrador as pointless, without a political or a social bite. However, such would denote a lack of perspective on the critic. Kubrador is not merely a "slice of life" film. It does not sit idly as a film that is satisfied in documenting a bet collector's life in its truest sense. The film is after all a narrative, and in a way, Jeturian cooks up a fantastic angle wherein Amy's dead soldier son occasionally visits her as a ghost. The device may be perceptively be seen as old and tired but I disagree. The ghost merely shows Amy's life as a life that is constantly in the claws of death. She literally walks with death beside her. Whenever she collects bets, the police might just suddenly rush in and arrest her. Whenever she attends a grand draw, a dangerous raid might ensue. Her abode cannot be accurately described as a safe haven: kids run around, criminal elements abound, and the alleyways twist and turn like an impossible labyrinth. The film ends in a powerful note where we find Amy visiting her son's grave. She witnesses two men arguing over a vehicular accident. The man grabs his gun and shoots at the other driver but misses. The bullet scrapes a little bit of Amy's shoulder (a mere hand away from her heart) but kills a man behind her. Jeturian ends the film with Amy's realization that she is living life dangerously and that she is traversing a dangerous road where her life can be taken away almost immediately. Logic dictates that that might not be the first time Amy has realized that, but Jeturian directs the scene with power that has cumulated from the contemplative scenes that came before, that the audience might take the final scene as an impetus for change, or a mere eventuality of life that Amy will shrug off and merely continue her pathetic existence as the bottom dweller, a mere bet collector who earns a mere 52 pesos ($1) per day. I suspect Amy will opt for the latter, as Kubrador is not a film of sudden miracles and instantaneous changes, but of grim realism.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

hey where do you study???

Anonymous said...

how old are you???

Oggs Cruz said...

I'm 23, and I'm a UP law student...

Please keep discussions primarily focused on the film, and it would be best if comments are posted not anonymously.

Thanks,
Oggs Cruz

tes_eyemd said...

i just saw the movie. i agree its slow paced. more than that it is dragging and has no redeemin factor on the viewer. i didnt recognized a good conflict that could have moved the story forward.

Oggs Cruz said...

True, it is slow-paced but it is never dragging. The conflict is much more internal which gives the film a pervading feeling of danger everytime Amy tries to get bets from her neighbors. It comes full circle when Amy meets death face to face, but survives. Life's a bet, and we usually lose... how long will it take for death to finally claim his prize for all us losers?

Give it another shot. Don't expect confrontations. Breeze by Jeturian's pace, and it's really brilliant. If that doesn't work, at least I tried.

Cheerios,
Oggs

nix said...

I was just curious, cos we're supposed to make a paper on this movie..

Were you able to see any philosophical insight on the movie? Aside from the death idea? I didn't really understand the film,so I find it hard to actually look beyond what was shown in the movie..

Oggs Cruz said...

I am not sure what you mean by philosophical insight. I am by no means an expert in philosophy so I have no authority to quote anything.

I really don't think there's any philosophical motivations behind the film. It's basically a humanist piece where the depiction of the harshness of reality is the prime intention. Sorry, if I can't help you beyond this point.

But thanks for reading my review.

Oggs Cruz

Anonymous said...

sir, would you mind if i ask your opinion on the performance of ms. gina pareño in the film kubrador? also i would like to ask your opinion on who is the better performer between Maricel soriano in Inang Yaya and Gina Pareño in Kubrador?

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi anonymous,

I thought Ms. Pareno carried the film with her seamless performance. Having said that, although I find it unfair to compare two actresses portraying different roles, I was more enchanted with Pareno --- it's a more difficult role to play and its success hinges on a perfect mix of subtlety, humor and drama. Maricel Soriano is absolutely wonderful in Inang Yaya though. However, it's a role that is tailor-fit for her and I suspect that the difficulty in the performance is a lot less compared to Pareno (who was shot in a real slums area, with untrained actors, yet still elicits a very realistic portrayal).

Angela said...

Hi Oggs, this is Angela, the daughter of Atty. Alonso. Thanks for the wonderfully written review of our film. My mom would surely appreciate it if she gets to read this. Hope to see you around UP. :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Angela,

I really admire your mom for being an esteemed lawyer and a film producer at the same time. Her first film is really lovely, and this one certainly didn't disappoint.

Anonymous said...

Dear Oggs, I watched this movie two days ago, and after which looked for reviews online, yours is the one I liked best...

This movie is very good. Gina Pareno is brilliant. The writer of the story is most of all very good and somehow I was able to analyze his real scheme, which I supposed others weren’t able (yet) to figure out. It is really about two 'collectors' traversing one neighborhood, 1. Amy, the bet collector and 2. Grim Reaper, the soul collector. In the course of the story (which I opine as not at all dragging, but in fact very engaging and circumstantiated) the two collectors weren't really colliding but knew of each other, and were perhaps observing each other's movements. But the ending in its subtlety is so good it made the two finally come across each other with great impact, that only viewers who are numb (or dumb) wouldn't get affected and realize the movie's message, that Death when it awakens us we become Life. I could imagine what happened to Amy afterwards, life to her wouldn't have been the same anymore.

Peter Paulino de Villa
www.lit.org/author/peterpaulino

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Peter,

Cheers to Philippine Cinema!

paul said...

at long last, i had the chance to see Kubrador yesterday and i soooo love it... it's the best indie film i've ever seen... a well-crafted film, amazing characters, poignant plot, and with very unforgetable scenes (most were symbolic, i think)... the scene i like most is when Amy meets dead-end wherever she goes... i will definitely recommend this film to all my friends, relatives and colleagues...

cOrinne said...

-the movie was a mirror of a reality of Filipinos.
-the film was so natural. so real except that we can see the ghost..hehe..
-i loved the part when Amy(Gina) got lost in the 'labyrinth' of 'eskinita'... i just don't know what i felt while i was watching that part...
An "A" for the film.

(ang galing naman po ng review nyo...truly...isang iskolar ng bayan...corinne)

4 D Pipol said...

I just saw the film in Prague´s film festival, so still fresh of deep impressions. - As for the philosophical inside of the movie - as Oggs said, there is none. I may be burdened by my European heritage but the film strongly reminded me the style of Jean Luc Godard who in the 1960s started the New Wave with his rough and raw way of filming the reality around us. If you think about it, the reality of each of us is full of "slow" moments that bear almost no meaning. And yet, I thought Jeturian wants us to see some symbolic meaning in her son Eric´s appeanrance everytime she happened to do something bad or harmful. As if he was to guide her an an angel but also warn her of danger... Nadia, Prague, Czech Republic

Anonymous said...

do rich people play jueteng?

Anonymous said...

The movie "Kubrador" was somehow made in 2006 yet it is still holds true today. The reality is Filipinos are really silent gamblers.

Gambling is not only a social malaise but mental illness where people mostly poorest of the poor are victimized.

But what is not acceptable are politicians protecting it and law enforcers who make money out of this social malaise or menatl illness.

It is mental illness because most of the people hooked up with the illegal gambling have difficulty to leave the vice.

We are suposed to be the only Catholic nation in Asia yet the church is inutile in its moral duty to contain the vice with exception of Bishop Oscar Cruz.

Here in caraga region, illegal gambling suertres whose big financer is a Butuan rice trader is raking one million pesos without taxes income a day.

Like Narco-politics the rice trader and his family who is operating this big business shared his loot to some crook politicians.

BIG BEN
Butuan City

Anonymous said...

Hello,

Uhm... I would just like to ask you something if this thread/blog is still open... how did you understand the ending of the movie of Kubrador? I serisoulsy don't get it; what's up with the fighting scene in the end where Amy got scared of blood and her son's apparition showing up following her?

I'm a 4th year highschool student entasked to research about the movie's ending, so I would greatly appreciate it if someone could deeply enhance my comprehension on it. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi, your blog really helped me with my presentation!I have to present key points in Kubrador and I stumbled upon your blog. You have excellent points and you very insightful way of writing. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Hi, your blog really helped me with my presentation!I have to present key points in Kubrador and I stumbled upon your blog. You have excellent points and you very insightful way of writing. Keep it up!