Sunday, July 19, 2009

Last Supper No. 3 (2009)



Last Supper No. 3 (Veronica Velasco, 2009)

Schadenfreude is the pleasure one derives out of the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude is probably the reason why Veronica Velasco's Last Supper No. 3, written by Velasco and Jinky Laurel from the actual court records and experiences of Wilson Acuyong who spent two and a half years and thousands of pesos to rid himself of two nuisance suits, is such a pleasurable experience. The film explores, with an adroit grasp of comedy, the suffering of Winston Nañawa (wonderfully played by charismatic Joey Paras), Mr. Acuyong's film persona, under a bizarrely inefficient, absurdly impertinent, grossly corrupt, and atrociously dawdling justice system in the Philippines.

Wilson is an assistant production designer who was tasked to locate a specific prop for a commercial shoot. The prop, an image of Jesus Christ's last supper (a token ornament in any Filipino dining room), was to be chosen out of the many residents of his lower class neighborhood who auditioned their last suppers (the residents lining up, clutching their last suppers, different in make, size, and quality, is a hilarious sight) for the chance of earning a thousand pesos. Three of the dozens of last suppers became finalists. One was chosen and its owner was paid the promised amount. Last supper no. 3, an unremarkable rug with tassels along its edges, owned by Gareth (Jojit Lorenzo) and his mother (Beverly Salviejo), suddenly disappears. Because of that, Wilson, along with his assistant Andoy (JM de Guzman), is charged with estafa (swindling) and serious physical injuries (an offshoot of the main case that resulted from an incident after an unsuccessful attempt at reconciling, where Gareth tries to hit Wilson and Andoy with his belt, and Andoy hitting Gareth in revenge, breaking his nose and leading him to come back with and threaten to kill with a replica samurai). Thus begins Wilson's calvary.

Velasco, one half of the directing team (the other half is Pablo Biglangawa) behind Inang Yaya (Mother Nanny, 2007), a lovingly crafted tale about a nanny who divides her time between her daughter and her ward, and Maling Akala (Mistaken Assumption, 2008), a subtle comedy between a pregnant woman and a mysterious man-on-the-run who serendipitously meet in a bus, conceives a movie that out-humors everything she has done. Despite Velasco piling absurdities upon absurdities, made brazen by a conscious insistence on extending Wilson's suffering for comedic effect (schadenfreude: when Wilson takes the public transportation from a shoot in the province to the court in Manila, he is splashed with mud, marathons to follow a cab, gets his shirt stuck to the cab door as he alights thus dragging him along, and all this, holding an oversized pink headdress, only to discover that the hearing was suspended because of the judge's untimely death, we are thoroughly amused), the film does not remain within the realm of comedy and slapstick.

Subtly, it matures. Despite the unfairness of the system and his fate, Wilson still pushes through his case with diligence and a bizarre belief that justice might prevail (or maybe he has just developed a callousness to the exploitation of the system characterized by impersonal lawyers, rabid litigants, and dilapidated courtrooms). At this point of the film, Wilson graduates from being an object of amusement into a tragic figure, everyman's martyr. He has known the system enough to empathize with his opponents, knowing very well that the months and years spent being immersed in the legal stand-off (which he himself experienced, envisioning the legal battle as an acting competition, rehearsing his direct examination script not as if his freedom depended on it, but as if an acting award depended on it), would lead you to believe that what you're fighting for, no matter how petty or skewed, is right and moral. He has come to acknowledge the bamboozlement inflicted by the unapologetically unjust justice system to him, both to him and his opponents. At this point, the amusement dealt by his misfortune transforms into respect. He has survived the journey, with battle scars, eyebags, and a mug mellowed by trials and tribulations.

This is Velasco's outstanding feat. She decides to expose a rotten system through humor yet instead of completely fabricating the story, she allows the case to speak for itself, making the absurdity several notches more alarming. In an inspired decision, she made use (surprisingly with the permission of the Supreme Court) of Manila's Hall of Justice, a building ripe for condemnation that houses the fiscal's offices and trial courts that service an ever-expanding population. The architecture of the building, several floors (connected by stairs because the elevator is usually out of service) of spaces that encircle a useless and unkempt courtyard, further emphasize the system that has been rendered inutile by red tape and bureaucratic complications. Thus, Last Supper No. 3 is funny not only because it centers on a man who was showered with a downpour of misfortune but also because we know it is very real, and the only plausible thing we can do about it is laugh.

7 comments:

thebaklareview said...

i love this review. only you could've come up with it.

Oggs Cruz said...

Maraming salamat :)

Reggie said...

Hey Oggs nice review. Too bad I could not stay to discuss Nerseri with you. Paki-explain na lang next time.

Jason Grimes said...

I love Last Super No. 3! I enjoyed watching it.

My only complaint was, I think it would not hurt the script and the timing if it can only be a little authentic with some court procedures. Just a minor thing lang naman.

But as a whole, truly deserving of the Best Picture Win.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Reggie, and it was nice meeting you. Paturo ako ng golf next time... pinipilit ako mag-golf sa law office. Hehe. Nerseri is getting better, the more I think about it...

Hi Jason, I thought the court procedures were accurate enough (my only real gripe is with the attire of the lawyers; I doubt any Manila judge would allow their lawyers to argue in short sleeves barong, or sleeveless blouses).

Jason Grimes said...

Like I said, minor things lang. Like, it was the lawyer who entered the plea. And the never bang the gavel at the start of the hearing. yun lang. hehehehehe!

Oggs Cruz said...

True, true.