Blackout (Ato Bautista, 2007)
Twenty-somthing year old Ato Bautista follows-up his Sa Aking Pagkagising Mula Sa Kamulatan (My Awakening From Consciousness, 2005) with something less sprawling and more focused. Blackout reinforces the fact that Bautista might be one of the most interesting young directors to have come out of the recent cinematic baby boom in the Philippines. On the strength of his first film (flawed but distinctly resonating in its harsh grittiness), Bautista was adopted by Unitel who provided him with funds and technical help to realize his sophomore feature.
Blackout concerns Gil (Robin Padilla), an alcoholic who frequently blacks-out due to a combination of overdrinking and emotional stress. Left by his wife, Gil takes care of his son Nino (John Michael Reyes). The film begins with Gil waking up in his car. He notices his car's backlights broken with traces of blood all over. Bautista then cuts to Gil again waking up, but this time inside his small apartment's bathroom --- we see traces of vomit (probably from an entire night's worth of drinking) inside the toilet. Nino wakes his father and the latter starts religiously doing the daily routine of preparing his kid for school.
Bautista trusts his audience enough to not reveal everything. In fact, Bautista plays his audience. He purposely lets us into the world of Gil which is uncomfortably unfamiliar. Images burst in and out; hazy memories are shown with a warning that they can't exactly be trusted; even reality should be taken with a dash of caution. On top of that, Bautista populates his film with characters who don't exactly exist to forward the narrative, but merely to contribute to the atmosphere of claustrophobia, guilt and dread --- a tenant walks with a suspicious limp and dons tattoos of wide-opened eyes; Belen, Gil's next door neighbor (Iza Calzado) keeps her daughter, who is prone to car accidents, under close discomforting watch.
When Gil does end up killing the young girl by accident, he becomes torn with guilt, suspicion, and confusion. Momentary rays of hope are provided --- Gil ends up calling his wife and offering promises of change and reconciliation, and starts boiling water for Nino's morning baths and preparing fresh socks for school. However, Bautista merely teases you to that possibility of a happy ending; that the crime by negligence has been successfully covered up and is in fact that impetus for Gil to change. Weirder things start happening. The confusion, the little bits and pieces of information offered, the astounding and effective atmosphere created --- all these intertwine to render a conclusion that despite its being completely revelatory, is satisfactory.
Interestingly, Bautista's two feature films are very similar with each other with regards to its overall theme. There's a sense that Bautista's films presents a world that is treacherous and completely unsafe. In Sa Aking Pagkagising Mula Sa Kamulatan, society breeds angst and violence and all the film's intertwining stories end up with some sort of betrayal, culminating in a final act that ultimately surprises.
In Blackout, the treachery is even more intimate; it arises from the self, from the people you trust, from concepts of reality and memory. Such treachery culminates in an ending that resonates with overt remorse. The film's postscript details a conclusion that is somewhat hopeful, somewhat manages to alleviate the bitter taste of tragedy. However, knowing Bautista, there's more than meets the eye and in Gil's case, certainty is practically impossible.