Mababangong Bangungot (Kidlat Tahimik, 1977)
English Title: Perfumed Nightmare
It was in 1977 when Eric de Guia (who would rename himself as Kidlat Tahimik (Silent Thunder), thus removing every bit of colonial roots from his personality) made his first film. It was made with around $10,000 seed money, by a director who had no previous film training whatsoever, in an age wherein Hollywood was beginning its fetish with faraway worlds and epic-size stories and budgets (ala George Lucas' Star Wars). Yet Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare) is a success like no other --- it garnered awards from international film festivals and gained the respect of various critics and filmmakers, and spawned a generation of independent Filipino filmmakers who'd go the way of Kidlat Tahimik and make films with an adundance of heart and spirit, despite the lack of funding.
Thirty years after its debut, Tahimik's first film re-screened during the 1st Bagong Agos Film Festival, alongside its many descendants in cause. I can only imagine the reactions of its viewers when it was released --- the film looks brazenly cheap, Tahimik's editing felt more mundane than artful. It looked like a stitched-together home video; which is probably the reason why most foreign critics consider it as semi-autobiographical (Tahimik was quick to respond that he was never a jeepney driver). In Tahimik's amateurish methods, we sense a delightful familiarity, or a very welcoming attitude that seemingly invites us to explore his world --- a world which I thought mixed real conventions of history and geography with Tahimik's unique imaginative sense.
Midway through the feature, the sound started deteriorating and Tahimik, whose improvisation is probably his greatest cinematic talent, danced his way to the front of the theater wearing only a bahag (native g-string). He finally gave up on modern technology (the same way his alter ego in Mababangong Bangungot did) and told his story the only possible way he could think of, without the help of modern technology. I was too enchanted with the imagery of jeepneys being constructed, of little boys getting circumsized, of his tattooed pal saying farewell, to make out any of what Tahimik was doing --- it looked like he was improvising the Filipino's first trip to the moon. I thought that moment was quite an intimate surprise --- the present Tahimik is as lively, youthful, and imaginative as the Tahimik thirty years ago in his debut feature; and he is still insanely in love with his culture; telling everyone that the yoyo is a Filipino invention, that the moon buggy is a Filipino invention, that the high-tech digital projectors imported from abroad can't equal the power of basic storytelling.
After a few minutes of Tahimik's act, the sound was finally restored. In the film, Tahimik was brought by an American capitalist to Paris to work as his assistant in refilling bubble gum machines all over Paris. That is when, I thought, Tahimik's coming of age happens. During his lifetime in his barrio, he has been in love with the ideology of Western progress; he is the president of his town's Werner von Braun fan club, and is an avid listener of Voice of America, and seems to be perpetually enchanted with the idea of space travel and industrialization. His trip to Paris changes everything; he befriends the market vendors of the Four Seasons, soon to be uprooted by the appearance of a monstrous supermarket. He visits Germany wherein he sympathetically notes the construction of the last man-made onion dome, while helping out in a German woman's labor. The extremely slow de-Westernization of Tahimik is charmingly told (through his letters to his mother, through a roughly shot yet lovely dream sequence in the end), yet you are drawn incessantly to his growth; something I find invaluably rare in cinema nowadays.
It is Tahimik's generosity, his humble simplification of the world's complex worries, that carries Mababangong Bangungot from its low budget imaginings. Tahimik exoticizes his culture without necessarily exploiting it. He also exoticizes European cultures; and in a way, he dons the skin of a curious documentarian, only with more humor and a drawing charm. Tahimik states that he initially wanted this film to be the typical tale of a probinsyano (provincial man) who is transplanted to city life. Somehow, the canvass blossomed into what it is now; a flavorful ode to Filipino ingenuity and culture; a classy coming-of-age tale of a fullgrown man (although childlike in his ways) coming to see the world in his little nation's meager curious eyes.