Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jay (2008)



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.

14 comments:

TheScud said...

I've been lurking around in your blog and your review on Jay is spot-on.
By the way, the guy who played dead when they "reshot" the morgue scene is not the victim's brother (Jerry) but one of Jay's staff (Andrew).

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks for both reading and appreciating my thoughts, and the correction. Great thing about blogs is that you can easily correct these embarrassing errors.

Chuck Gutierrez said...

Thanks for watching our film Oggs. Cheers!

Oggs Cruz said...

Congratulations on your Cinemalaya win!

Anonymous said...

finally got to see this film! Really the best cinemalaya film for me this year. however, im still confused with the ending and felt that it sort of fell flat compared to the rest of the film.

id also like to commend francis pasion for the way he handled the actors. i give credit to him for bringing out baron geisler's potential as a great actor. flor salanga was exceptional as well and im glad she got a major role this time.

congratulations to the filmmakers! :)

- anna

Oggs Cruz said...

At first, I thought that the ending was a bit of an act of surrender, where the filmmaker didn't exactly know where his film is going so he'd rather just abruptly end it with something that is trendy. Given time to think about it, it actually worked, whether this was actually intended or not. It gave the film that sort of film within a film within a film vibe that is apt in a film that dissects honesty in the medium. I'm still preferring Ranchero over this, but yeah, it's pretty good.

Avid said...

Just saw this now.

Most everything was beautiful. The humor, the acting & hurray the visuals. Finally an Indie film with even visuals...100 came super close to me but the Hongkong parts were out of place.

While the film is very beautiful... I really hated the ending... breaking the fourth wall is always risky & often feels self indulgent & even if there was a deeper meaning to it or it's a statement or whatever... it still felt like a cheap resolution to me... kind of like when you ask some artsy fartsy person "why" & you get "why not"... grrr it's annoying, the ending was annoying... but it was a such beautiful film that I still think it is even if I hated the ending... & I would hate it if the people behind the film would go "oh your SUPPOSE to hate the ending"... grrr.

Jerrold Tarog said...

i saw this film a few hours ago and really liked it even if the ending was a bit contrived "meta" for me. i met francis pasion before the screening and he told me JAY is a little similar to CONFESSIONAL, and i must agree, especially in terms of structure.

now i'm having a blast imagining a spoof short film where Jay, the journalist, gets to interview Lito Caliso, the mayor from CONFESSIONAL, in a prequel. Hahaha. La lang...

Anonymous said...

congrats jerrold! heard you got the most nominations for this year's urian awards! naks!

- anna

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks avid, Jerrold, and Anna,

Avid, I agree, the ending felt cheap (at first, at least), but it's in line with the film. If that ending happened to 100, now that would be really cheap.

Jerrold, why don't you get Irma Adlawan (or Ina Raymundo, if she's still available) to reprise their roles in Tuhog, and while you're at it, get Alfred Vargas, Diana Zubiri, Francine Prieto, etc. too, post-Bikini Open. Oh, congratulations on your win in Osian, and your Urian nominations. Best award for a good film however is to have it seen by as many people as possible. Release it on DVD na, hehe.

Avid said...

Nasasayangan lang ako kasi yung movie na ito ang sarap sana mapanood ng masa, eh pang masa yung mata ko, so imbes na mag reflect ako sa metaphorical ending, nairita lang ako at pero siguro sa ganda naman nung kabuoan ng pelikula ay may mapupulot pa rin ang manunuod.

Oh I was quite bothered with them killing a chick... granted we eat chickens, it still feels wrong to kill an animal for a film project... unless ipis siya.

Oggs Cruz said...

A friend of mine who got to ask Francis Pasion about the chick scene told me that the scene wasn't really part of the script, and that the killing was accidental. Instead of letting the chick die needlessly, they just put it into the film. Brilliant call, if this is true.

TheScud said...

If I rememeber it right, there was a note in the end credits that the "killing" of the pink chick was purely accidental. They filmed the burial scene for a thematic point.

Jerrold Tarog said...

thanks oggs and anna.

re dvd: oggs, we're working on it! i'll let you know once it's out.