Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Imahe Nasyon (2006)

Imahe Nasyon (Poklong Anading, Yeye Calderon, Mes de Guzman, Emman Dela Cruz, Neil Daza, Lav Diaz, Tad Ermitaño, Rox Lee, Topel Lee, Milo Paz, Robert Quebral, Ellen Ramos, Raymond Red, R.A. Rivera, Lyle Sacris, EJ Salcedo, Sig Sanchez, Dennis Empalmado, Ogi Sugatan & Paolo Villaluna, 2006)
English Title: Image Nation

Twenty years after Ferdinand Marcos' regime was toppled by the EDSA Revolution, producers Jon Red and Carol Banuan Red pose a question to twenty of the country's digital filmmakers: What has happened since? Given five minutes each and absolutely limitless control to play around with the theme (and make use of actor Ping Medina), the result is Imahe Nasyon (Image Nation), an omnibus work which I thought was more interesting than it was groundbreaking.

Most of the short films are draped with cynicism; probably an indication of the rebellious character of the independent film community of anything authoritarian. Emmanuel dela Cruz's Imagining EDSA questions the validity of the EDSA exercises with Medina posing atop a fly-over imagining a metaphorical woman giving birth. Most cynical is Paolo Villaluna's One Take, a tale of a family spanning several presidential administrations ending in an upsetting tragedy (the entire five hour film is shot with one take, thus the title).

Experimental are the works of Lyle Sacris, Poklong Anading, and Roxlee. Sacris' Dibuho makes use of several digital photographs of Medina edited together to make a hypnotizing film that culminates in a rapid succession of the different faces of the Filipino people. Between Intersections, Anading's effort is a collection of several vignettes of normal Manila life; played in reverse; and multiplying successively until the entire screen is filled with the luminous chaos of the sights and sounds of post-EDSA Manila. Roxlee's La Pula mixed stop-motion animation, clever framing, and nebulous narrative to come up with a film that fancifully plays around with colonial ache and its repercussions to the Philippine psyche.

A disappointing pattern appears throughout the omnibus. There's a tendency for the filmmakers to downplay narrative and go for symbolisms --- Yeye Calderon's Silid (Room) and Emmanuel dela Cruz's Imagining EDSA are the biggest perpetrators of this annoying habit of belittling the power of five minutes. R.A. Rivera (Public Service Announcement) and Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez (Aksyon Star)'s MTVs are merely entertaining.

Tad Ermitaño and Topel Lee astound with their genre confections. Ermitaño's Local Unit brings us to a bleak futuristic Manila wherein computers make use of actual human brains to function (which totally makes sense since a human brain's memory surpasses any supercomputer's); enterprising Filipinos, as always, find a backdoor to earn an extra buck out of the new technology, paying real poor Filipinos for their brains to activate the computers of the Manila middle class. Lee's Ang Manunulat (The Writer) is a statement against the government's efforts to silence media draped in what seems to be a Lynchian horror piece.

Noteworthy is Raymond Red's Mistulang Kamera Obskura (Like an Obscure Camera) and Mes de Guzman's Tsinelas (Slippers). The former stars Medina and his father, Pen Medina looking at each other through a hole in their respective jail cells. It seems that Red is trying to compare how we view contemporary society from the point of view of the optical illusions created by photography; that for us to see life as it truly should be seen, everything should be topsy-turvy. De Guzman's cinema verite short shows a day in the life of a street sweeper who walks to Mendiola with his broken slipper. It turns out that that day is the day of the Mendiola massacre where rallyists are brutally mauled by the police; de Guzman continues his tale playing with the now-famous journalistic video of the rally, it seems like there's a belittlement of the value of the sacrifices of the past when the immediate need is the fixing of the street sweeper's slipper.

Most impressive is Lav Diaz's segment entitled Pagkatapos ng Ulan (After the Rain). His camera is motionless in a low angle position during the entire five minutes. An infrequent voice-over tells us that after the rain, the disconnected voice's mother left. Thereafter, the father left; and finally he saw himself: a jovial kid. My enchantment with this short film is the fact that the credits state that the actors are unknown, giving me an idea that Diaz merely placed a camera and filmed an everyday sequence, and building upon what he gathered during the entire five minutes of shooting, created a piece that evokes an uncontrollable emotion of separation and the difficulty for self-identification.

The omnibus is ultimately a mixed bag. A number of short films are quite forgettable, or perhaps too inappropriately dense to elicit real awe or an allure for further intellectual deliberation. In a way, the absolute freedom made the exercise slightly scattershot for the entire piece to actually speak something novel and moving about our present state.


avid said...

"created a piece that evokes an uncontrollable emotion of separation and the difficulty for self-identification."

-------- I'm glad you got something out of it. When I saw that segment I was cursing & I wanted to stick a pencil through the directors nose for expecting me to sit through what he made... garrrr! I though most of imahenasyon was mostly crap & the only person who took the concept seriously was Quebral... the rest feel like old projects that they dropped in to the omnibus & just made a Ping or Edsa connection (but just Ping mostly)

Oggs Cruz said...

Hahaha... Most of my friends will probably agree with you. The segment's mindachingly contemplative.

Oh, I did love Quebral's segment --- it's very funny, very commercial-ish (something I'd see showing in an info-mercial. Actually, most of the films are of that type, which is why it's not that big of an achievement; and why I thought Lav Diaz (and to a certain degree, Raymond Red and Topel Lee) was the only filmmaker in the bunch who kept his filmmaker's integrity intact, despite the highly generic omnibus tie.

Mitz Lapus said...

Wow, maybe you're all geniuses in filmmaking to have the guts to call the film not groundbreaking and most of it crap. As far as i know, this is the first time filipino filmmakers attempted something of this sort.. and with a thematic thread (which doesn't have to be literally and obviously in your face EDSA related, as long as it says something about the country's situation)and with a single actor (to different degrees). The movie has a lot of flaws in some segments. But to discredit it as a non-achievement is stupid. Be happy then with your reviews of lesser films. It's good that serious filmmakers don't listen to wanna be critics like you (and your friends.)Watching it in a movie house tells us that slowly but surely, Philippine cinema can go places.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Mitz,

Thank you very much for your passionate reaction.

First and foremost, I do not allege that I'm an expert in filmmaking. What I write here are my opinions, and writing something that I think is a dishonest assessment to a film, is a graver sin. I write what I think, is there a problem?

Second, I am not saying that the film isn't groundbreaking. My words were the film is more interesting than groundbreaking --- it is groundbreaking because of it's method, it would probably be more groundbreaking if the films weren't as scattershot as it is.

Third, filmmakers have an option to listen to "wannabe" critics like me and probably a host of other film enthusiasts who has access to the internet. Seriously, I'm not doing this to be read by filmmakers, I'm doing this because I like doing this and I really don't care who reads or who doesn't read my entries. But, sorry to say, filmmakers do read blogs --- Lav Diaz, Raya Martin, Quark Henares, Bobi Bonifacio, they read blogs. It's not necessary that they changed because of blogs, but they do appreciate it. Part and parcel of the rise of new Philippine cinema are the "wanna-be" critics like me, who continue to watch films, and allow intellectual discourse over them.

Lastly, I DON'T hate Filipino cinema. I am in love with our films, with our filmmakers, with the rising independent scene. However, I WON'T sacrifice my honest personal assessments on Filipino films just for the sake of it.


pao vic said...

you are something else oggs... ever notice how you have that pattern of contradicting yourself? you do have a gripe over philippine cinema. you just don't admit it. you make a review and then you defend it by starting off with.."I am not saying...." blah..blah..blah..blah...get behind the camera, cut a piece, put it together..this might give you a fresh of breath air. or i should say a breath of fresh air. this is what makes freedom of speech sometimes suck.


Oggs Cruz said...

Do I have a gripe against Philippine cinema?

I don't think disliking a few recent films equate to dislike.

And seriously, does the fact that a person hasn't gone behind the camera exclude him from giving his own viewpoints on cinema, in general?

You are being unfair. Philippine cinema is a wide array of things --- some are good, some aren't good, some are just okay, some are masterpieces. Pointing out which is which doesn't mean expression of a gripe.

What makes freedom of speech suck are people who are quick to make assumptions.

And if you want to show the world how much you love Philippine cinema, make your own blog and write yourself. You've done the first step by making a blogger account. But promise me this, when you see an INDEPENDENT Filipino film you do not like, be honest with your opinions, don't pussyfoot, don't hold back. You'll feel the pains of being attacked for having a different take on art. Now, that's independence.

telonistas said...

lav diaz'z piece was also my favorite! it's so simple and lyrical-parang haiku. short and powerful!
what i like about it also is that it plays around with TIME(its linearity and passage) with such honesty and integrity. by the time the piece ended everything felt like all the pretenses have vanished, washed away by the rain.what was left was the bare essential!
i think i felt the same way after watching his Batang Westside.