Monday, July 30, 2007

Squatterpunk (2006)

Squatterpunk (Khavn dela Cruz, 2006)

It’s a roller coaster ride down the literal rectum of the metropolis. Its only punctuations are title cards with oft-used proverbs; then it swings back into a hyperactive video collage of scenes from the slums. It’s oddly beautiful. You find poetry in these children’s escapes from their poverty --- a used can of soda is kicked endlessly through the puddle-riddled footpaths of the slums before being booted to a makeshift goal (complete with a goalie and a scorekeeper); the floor of the house bears the wear and tear of the dozen kids break dancing; the dirty waters also serve as communal pool to the kids.

Khavn dela Cruz’s frenzied pace is the film’s incongruent heartbeat. It is the metaphorical punk in the film’s title. Accompanying the frenetic rhythm of the video collage is the live music played by a band called The Brockas (aptly named, this band includes filmmakers Khavn, John Torres (Todo Todo Teros (2006)), and Lav Diaz (Hesus Rebolusyonaryo (Hesus the Revolutionary, 2002), Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, 2001), Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), Heremias (2006), among others). Squatterpunk is a concert film --- a never ending, energetic road to places we dare not tread. "This is not a film by Khavn," it's an experience.

There are little stories in the rapid succession of moving black and white images. We get to witness how an old lady selling popsicles become the savior to the maddening summer heat; this is segued by a dive to the detritus-filled water (you’re glad Khavn shot the film in black and white; turns the garbage and feces components of the dead body of water into verses of a poem rather than what they really are).

Most amazing is the story that wraps up the film. A family treads the streets of Manila at night, the few pesos they have they spend on their baby’s milk which they buy from a convenience store. They then forage for food in a stash of garbage in the street corner; Styrofoam boxes still contain scraps of food (mostly half-eaten fried chicken). The twist of the story is that instead of munching the remainders of what was once a worthy meal, they spend time to cook their find. Even in the face of extreme poverty, they find means to enjoy a well-earned dinner.

The thesis of Squatterpunk is exactly that: that in the midst of the squalor they were born in, these impoverished Filipinos still find a will to live above the preconceived notions of suffering that accompany their state of life. That is their rebellion; their statement in life --- something very similar to missions the filmmaker-musicians strumming their guitars, and playing music alongside the frenetic images projected have.

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