Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Colorum (2009)

Colorum (Jobin Ballesteros, 2009)

After spending thirty years in prison, Pedro (Lou Veloso), aging and obviously clueless as to what has become of the world outside the penitentiary, is finally freed. Young and promising cop Simon (Alfred Vargas), who is being groomed for a promotion by his godfather (Archie Adamos), a colonel, drives a colorum FX (a public utility vehicle that does not have the necessary governmental permits to carry around paying passengers), owned by his godfather, for extra income in preparation for his marriage to his long-time girlfriend who works as a nurse abroad. Destiny brings Simon and Pedro together. One night, Simon, out of his generosity and goodwill, offers to bring Pedro to the bus terminal that will bring him to Leyte, his only son's last known address. While arguing over directions to the terminal, Simon accidentally bumps a stranger (who turns out to be an American citizen, causing further attention to the accident), and instead of bringing the victim to the hospital, drives away. Instructed by his godfather who does not want his name dragged into the mess being the owner of the vehicle, Simon is forced to drive to Ormoc in Leyte to stay there and allow the attention wane. He drags along unwilling Pedro, the accident's lone witness, to his undisclosed fate.

Simon and Pedro's sudden road trip to Ormoc becomes the centerpiece to Jobin Ballesteros' Colorum. Curious to this trip is that the odd couple is transported to several landmarks, whether physical or emotional, that are pertinent to Philippine history. The rented room of the suicidal writer whom Pedro rescues from a suicide attempt by sheer chance is decorated with pictures of martyrs and writers during the Spanish occupation. While in Leyte, they spend some time in the monument commemorating the landing of General McArthur to redeem the Philippines from the Japanese, before spending the night inside the palatial mansion of Imelda Marcos. The road trip, from a mere journey to select geographic points in the country, becomes a chronological pilgrimage of reminiscence into the history of the nation.

Colorum is also ostensibly a story of redemption. Redemption awaits not only the film's two troubled leads (Simon is wrestling with a moral dilemma; while Pedro, having already paid for his sins, attempts to win a semblance of his former life by reuniting with his son), but also for the people they encounter during their trip, such as the suicidal writer who is inflicted with a chronic writer's block, the teenager who is contemplating on getting an abortion, and the religious leader who is aching with guilt resulting from years of fooling his many followers into believing his fabricated piousness. Given that the road trip metaphors as a travelogue through the Philippine's whirlwinding history, perdition, in the form of a grand second chance at righteousness, seems not to be limited to the individual characters that desperately seek it, but also pertains to the nation itself.

There is little subtlety to the allegory. Ballesteros confronts his audience with his metaphor with the overtness of a political cartoon, and while such overtness diminishes the poignancy of the actual story, it nevertheless provokes his audience to ponder about the bigger picture without ostracizing those who prefer to be stuck within the film's human drama. It helps that the film is a very well-acted one. The performance of Veloso, who ably weaves together his dramatic finesse and comedic timing to portray Pedro who is broken yet dignified, is quite affecting. Vargas, on the other hand, is an adequate support, granting Simon the enviable naivete that his character initially possesses without overshadowing the same capacity to be corrupted for good.

The film's finale is eerily reminiscent of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, a senator whose death sparked the flames that would cause the collapse of Ferdinand Marcos' dictatorship. In true melodramatic fashion, Pedro's sacrifice is attended with affectations of despair, anger, pathos, and passion. Ballesteros pumps the finale with every directorial excess he can grab from his bag: slow motion, cross cuts, heavy music, and rabid acting. Ballesteros confirms this visual tribute to Ninoy Aquino by inserting an actual frame of Aquino's assassination before rolling the end credits. It's an ending that intrigues more than it resolves. The journey ends with Pedro's sacrifice, granting Simon a second chance at redemption. The ending, under the light of the journey as metaphor to the nation's history, posits Aquino's assassination as also the nation's second chance at redemption, coming from decades of toiling under unjust colonizers and a corrupt dictator.

Aquino was assassinated in 1983. Marcos' dictatorship was toppled in a peaceful revolution valiantly headed by Aquino's wife, Corazon, in 1986. More than a decade after (with three presidents, Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo, succeeding Corazon Aquino's administration), the country is still drowning in an ocean of corruption and penury. How then did this nation spend its invaluable second chance, purchased with the tears, blood, and lives of our patriots and martyrs? That is the bigger picture, and if we translate the bigger picture to match what happens when the end credits start rolling, knowing fully well that Simon gets a second chance, purchased for him by Pedro, to uphold morality the way he confidently spoke of in the beginning of the film while being interviewed by his superiors for his promotion, we might as well surrender hope and consider Pedro's sacrifice for naught. As it seems second chances, no matter how elusive or expensive, cannot defeat the eallure of comfort and corruption. Such is the sad fact that history has taught us.


Anonymous said...

wow, i never even bothered to look at the bigger picture. i was so immersed in the human drama (actually ended up crying in the end) because of veloso's superb acting.

i did notice the insertion of ninoy's assassination. however, that ending reminded me more of clint eastwood's Gran Torino.

Oggs Cruz said...

Of course, the bigger picture is my take on the film. I'm not sure what the director really intended. Watching the film as a human drama suffices too, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

thebaklareview said...

it was clearly a story about the nation, but my god, your review unified the thoughts better than the movie did.

Anonymous said...

thank you very much for this little essay on Colorum. As I have seen the film, but I do not have a version with English subtitles, there are many things I still do not understand and I would be glad to get in contact with you, if you could/would like to answer some questions.

F.ex., the writer in the film, is he Juan Luca or Tomás? Why does he want to suicide? Could you identify some pictures of martyrs and writers during the Spanish occupation? What is written on walls? Why does he have the text "Mi último adiós" de José Ribal in his typewriter?

What meaning has the sequence in the mansion of Imedla Marco?

I would like very much to get in touch.