Thursday, December 11, 2008

Concerto (2008)

Concerto (Paul Alexander Morales, 2008)

Looking at the roster of Filipino period films released during the last five years that take place during the Pacific War (a very short list that includes Joel Lamangan's Aishite Imasu (Mahal Kita) 1941 (I Love You 1941, 2004), Cesar Montano's Panaghoy sa Suba (The Call of the River, 2004), and Lamangan's Blue Moon (2006)) and comparing it to Hollywood-funded Pacific War flicks like John Dahl's The Great Raid (2005), it becomes apparent that budgetary constraints imposed by cash-strapped film studios prevent filmmakers from efficiently recreating the period. While Dahl had millions of dollars to recreate 1940's Manila in the vast wildernesses of Australia, local filmmakers make do with the diminishing remaining edifices from that era (these edifices are often inaccurate representations of their former selves, with fresh coats of paint and other paraphernalia that couldn't have come from the 40's). If no near-accurate implements from the period exists, producers make do with sloppy digital effects.

Paul Alexander Morales' Concerto is set in Davao, which prior to the Pacific War was home to thousands of Japanese civilians who were living peacefully with the locals. Thus, when the war broke out, allegiances are broken, enemies are made, and friendships are torn. The film centers on a family who, after being evicted from their house by the invading Japanese, were forced to live in the outskirts of the city. Concerto is remarkable because with its meager budget (a fraction of the budget of these mainstream Filipino films, working primarily on the P500,000 (roughly $10,000) grant of Cinemalaya, an annual digital film festival) and other funds it can raise elsewhere, it succeeded in capturing the feel and atmopshere period it manages to recreate.

There are very few action sequences in this war film (the battle scenes are filmed as montages: of shot of the skies edited with silhouettes of Japanese soldiers shooting at the sky, all complemented by apt sound effects). Concerto mainly rests in its attempt to look beyond the visceral effects of the war and concentrate on its repercussions on a family that tries to weather through. What Concerto lacks in bodycount, bullets and explosions, it makes up with human complications arising out of the circumstance of war. Morales paints these wartime complications with impressive subtlety, without neglecting the need for a strong emotional pull to resonate with his audience. The film deals primarily with the fragile threads that are tested and strained by the cruel mechanics of war. Thus, Morales' characters, from the family forced into exile from their beloved home to the Japanese invaders, are distinctly all victims of history's relentless movement.

Concerto does not use music for ornamental purposes or to further heighten its melodrama. Nor does it exactly tread the same path as Roman Polanski's masterful World War II film The Pianist (2002), where the main character's reencounter with the piano serves as a reinforcement of his dignity after surviving the atrocities of war. Music, like the concept of motherhood, romantic love, and friendship, is utilized in Morales' film as persistent reminders of our threatened humanity. When the family stages a mini-concert amidst a crowd composed of family, friends, and enemies, and as familiar music is made and the people start communing and talking of things that connect them with each other despite race, religion, language and affinity, the film's thrust of uncovering that constant indication of humanity made fragile by war becomes apparent and effective.

Music, unfortunately, is temporary like the short periods of peace within the four years that Japan invaded the Philippines. While music is a reminder of our humanity, it cannot overpower the demands of war. Concerto showcases a sequence where the family is forced out of their house by the same Japanese soldiers they welcomed into their home, in obvious reaction to their impending loss to the arriving Americans. After flaunting their affinity with the human race, the Japanese soldiers, in pursuit of their duties, commit atrocities as repercussions of dire circumstances. Acknowledging their inherent capacity as human beings, which Morales paints with affecting sincerity, one can't help but discern that they too are victims of the viciousness of warfare.


nicco said...

Could you please tell me how i can get a copy of this film? I live in Toronto, Canada.

Noel Vera said...

Saw this. Pretty good--most impressive is the production design and use of music. Didn't realize Morales was so musical.

Anonymous said...

how can i get or where did i find the summrization of the indie film concerto??
i have a movie report all about it.
please reply on my email...
thanks for the concern