Jay (Francis Xavier Pasion, 2008)
A harshly authoritative female voice booms, narrating the story behind the images of a half-naked man with several stab wounds in the back are shown onscreen. Jay, a closeted homosexual, a loving son, and a religion teacher who is waiting to leave for America to work as an English teacher, is the victim. The narrator continues to tell the story, backtracking to a seemingly peaceful morning when Jay's mother (Flor Salanga) wakes up, sees a bird, catches it and then sets it free. She doesn't take the news of her son being murdered lightly. We see her crying, orating pleas of mercy to the murderer's mother, relating stories as to how good a son Jay has been. The narrator continues, accommodating interviews from the people who are close to Jay: his siblings who are cursing and shouting "Animal!" to the unknown and unseen perpetrator out of anger and desperation, his co-teachers who are quick to out their closeted colleague on national television, his students who praise his teaching skills, and even the town mayor who quickly airs the stance of the local government. There's drama; there's suspense; there's art; there's an angle, and even a promise of a plot twist right before the end. Such is the story of Jay, as only television can tell. Reality is a different topic altogether. Jay Santiago (Baron Geisler), TV director-producer who travels to the murdered Jay's town to mold a TV-worthy story, is the mastermind behind whatever gap between the sensationalized documentary and real life.
First-time director Francis Xavier Pasion explores that gap between television and reality in Jay, his highly entertaining entry to the 4th Cinemalaya Film Festival. By carefully dissecting the documentary and detailing what really happened behind the scenes, Pasion explores sensationalist journalism: the way it twists, expands, and recreates the truth; and for what end exactly, for increased viewership, a sense of artistic fulfillment, a feeling of altruism through free exposure, or maybe that twisted delight of exploitation?
Director Jeffrey Jeturian, in both Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2001) and Bikini Open (2005), has similarly indicted mass media for its excesses. Tuhog traces the story of a barrio lass who was raped by her father which was mutated into a soft core porn film entitled Hayok sa Laman (Lusting for Flesh). Bikini Open, on the other hand, details the efforts of a TV reporter who decides to feature bikini contests in her latest episode; and for the sake of increasing her program's viewership, invades into the private lives of the contestants, digging up dirt that will surely arouse the public's interest. Jeturian's films fault capitalist forces for the commodification of human lives, suspecting that the inherent motive in media's machinations for sensationalizing the truth are the monetary and market forces that dictate the viability of media products that blur the lines that divide fact from fiction.
What essentially differentiates Jay from Jeturian's filmic indictments is that Pasion is more interested in the persona of Jay the artist, rather than the rotten state of Philippine media. Pasion has surrendered to the fact that journalistic media has been and will always be about making things bigger, more dramatic, more movie-like than how they truly are, and he moves on by trivializing the differences, making them triggers for well-earned laughs and chuckles. More than the name, the similarities between the two Jays are uncanny, leading to the budding of the inevitable relationships between the living Jay and the family and friends who the murdered Jay left behind, as can be subtly seen in the moments where the mother wishes Jay a safe journey home, or where Jay flirts incessantly with the murdered Jay's ex-boyfriend (Coco Martin) and the latter sheepishly flirts back.
Possibly the most poignant moment in the film is when Jay, amidst the farce he has both crafted and condoned, expresses a mournful gaze that is hauntingly truthful. When Jay discovers that his footage of the mother crying over her son's corpse is useless, he convinces the mother to re-enact everything. The mother obliges and delivers an award-winning performance, crying over a TV crewmember who is playing dead underneath a white blanket. The soundtrack is drowned with fake wails and dramatic pleas while the camera catches Jay in the background, impatient yet discomforted. The wailing stops. The mother has ran out of lines. Persistent, Jay prods the mother to continue. Again, the scene is drowned with fabricated sorrow. Close-up to Jay's face which exudes something we have never seen before: honesty and vulnerability that is intriguing as it is humanizing.
Jay ends rather abruptly. Jay looks intently at the crotch of his hired masseur while waiting for him to drop his underwear. He laughs, which is an utter surprise, and then apologizes to the camera. Jay reverts back to Baron Geisler, who for the film's entire duration has effortlessly convinced me that he is an openly gay TV director-producer. A film staff appears, and the film abruptly ends. It is an ending that might elicit questions or, but hopefully not, disgruntled reactions. How can a film that is so technically perfect conclude in a note of error? Simple. Jay knows that it is a film, a farce, an illusion that exists for the less than two hours its audience spends with it. By acknowledging that fact and ending with the exposition of its farcical existence, director Pasion and Jay the film has exuded the same thing that Jay the character exuded: honesty and vulnerability that is intriguing as it is humanizing.