Monday, March 19, 2007

Compound (2006)

Compound (Will Fredo, 2006)

Loosely connecting the sequences are seveal chemical compounds. By the end of the film, we learn that these compounds are the ingredients of an addictive drug called shabu or crystal meth. While the chemical compounds (lye, red phosphorus, acetone, etc.) have nothing to do with the scenes where they appear in, crystal meth is one of the destructive agents that would lead to the climactic sequence. With the crystal meth are other agents that amplify the conflicts that provide for the meat of the feature: an intricate web of sexual trysts, familial intrigue, secrets and the impending threat of terrorism.

Will Fredo's debut feature film Compound tackles the people living inside a residential compound. The patriarch Virgilio (John Arcilla) is about to land a lucrative contract with visiting Koreans to the delight of his vain wife Divina (Janet Russ), whose daily routine includes morning exercises, massages, and visits to her favorite plastic surgeon. Her daily routine leaves no time to her mentally retarded daughter Luisa (Joan Palisoc) who would spend the day playing with her imaginary friends.

The other people inside the residential compound are Romina (Liza Diño) and Big Boy (Perry Escaño), the family's servants. When newcomer Jay (Jake Macapagal), a bisexual yuppie who is spending some time away from his ex-wife and ex-boyfriend), decides to rent one of the empty houses within the compound, jealousy, suspicions, and uncontrollable lust are aroused.

Political themes are oversimplified to fit the narrative milieu of the film. Terrorism is depicted in its simplest, without any matching depth as to why these terrorist agents are there in the first place. Their objective is clear and simple: to obliterate the wealthy. Fredo, however, gives an astute observation as to how terrorism might work. Through media and personal paranoia, the threats of terrorism oozes into the safety of the residential compound. Television and news programs, overly fantastic soap operas are all contributors to the expanding sense of psychological dysfunction these characters are harboring. Virgilio's monomania and inability to let go of his family's former wealth and glory, Divina's fetishistic need to beautify herself, Jay's overly complicated battle with sexual identity and his two meddling ex-lovers, Luisa's self-inflicted mental and emotional repression, and Romina and Big Boy's ambitious dream of living a perfect life far away from the compound where they slaved their lives and romances for: these are all subtle effects of a self-contained world whose only connection with the outside world are expanded and exaggerated impositions.

Compound isn't always seamless in its narrative. Like most features that drown themselves with themes, it is bound to implode with self-importance or just fail miserably with its mishmash of confusing priorities. However, Fredo possesses discipline that counters his feature's ambitions. While the film is still afflicted with the typical faults of a first-time director: excitement, overabundance of themes, among others, Fredo balances everything with an admirable fervor that keeps the film afloat amidst questionable sequences (I still do not understand certain narrative tracks like Virgilio's sudden disappearance or Jay and his ex-boyfriend's prolonged sexual acts). With Compound and its controlled complexities and psychological aptitude, Fredo stands tall as an exciting new voice in Philippine cinema with this successful and mature first feature.


Anonymous said...

just saw this film yesterday in dvd. strange, strange film - the characters, the mood, the dialogue. which actually made it very interesting for me. everything seemed unnatural. stripped of this strangeness, i think the film would have really sucked.

- anna

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Anna,

I think I agree with what you just said. Weirdest part of the film is casting a fully grown woman as a prepubescent girl. It's something out of a Lynchian nightmare.

Etchie said...

Hey Oggs, just chanced upon your review of this film. I was kind of intrigued about the premise--maybe because this was produced by a friend of a friend, and since I promised her that I would try to watch it when it first came out (think it was premiered at the Cleveland FIlm Fest or something as an entry), I still haven't seen it. Well, at least I now have an inkling of what to expect. :)