Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Magkakapatid (2010)

Magkakapatid (Kim Homer Garcia, 2010)
English Title: Blood Ties

Kim Homer Garcia’s Magkakapatid (Blood Ties) opens in a shack, disheveled and ominously in disarray from a previous bloody incident. Clues and remnants of what happened are littered everywhere. A bowl of dinuguan, a stew made of pig’s blood, meat and innards, is being feasted on by flies whose distinct buzzing complements the hurried reporting from the disembodied voice coming from the transistor radio. Human blood decorates the lowly walls and other furnishings in the house. A bloodied blade, presumably the weapon used in the hinted violence, menacingly rests on a tree stump.

Garcia, in the tightly conceived opening sequence previews the near-comical grandiosity of his film’s central encounter with the most of absurd of the realities persisting in the Philippines. The previewed violence, a murder of Cane and Abel proportions that sadly does not have the biblical story’s deeply rooted hate since the film’s murder stems from the bowl of blood stew that wasn’t meant to be shared, inspired by an actual news account of a man hacking his own brother, becomes the springboard for Garcia’s critical assessment of a society that is defined by the paradox that it is as closely knit by familial ties as it is separated by economic status and other variables. From the murder between siblings (Nico Antonio and Jerald Napoles), Garcia widens his reach and starts to detail the extended families of the victim and murderer, mapping the underlying frivolity and overt injustice of the grossly differing fates of their impoverished and sickly mother (Ces Quesada), their middle-class uncle (Julio Diaz), and their wealthy aunt-in-law (Racquel Villavicencio).

Magkakapatid fashions itself as dark comedy, one that mines humor from circumstances, however unlikely especially in a civilized society, that simply happen because of the long lingering perversities of capitalism and democracy. Through the quips exclusively delivered by the film’s two clowns, a chauffer (Archie Adamos) and a man-Friday (Soliman Cruz) who witness the overlapping tragedies right from the getgo, the film manifests its partiality for humor, no matter how heavy and persistent the drama onscreen are. It’s undoubtedly off-putting. Garcia seems unable to properly weave his intention of making apparent the hilariousness of the ludicrousness of the country’s sad reality into his picture with what is seen and heard in the movie. The result is both confused and confusing, an exhilarating mess that shape-shifts too often, too soon.

It’s a premise that shines with promise, a promise that Garcia manages to sustain during the first half of the film, where relationships, along with their unexposed angst and aches, carefully unravel. Halfway though, when all the characters’ stories have intertwined leading to what essentially is a staggered comedy of errors, Garcia suddenly loses control, forgetting entirely the very mannered way he teased his audience to going through the convolutions of his labyrinthine plot via the potent sounds and sights of his opening sequence. Frequent overacting from the reliable cast weakens the film’s stranglehold on reality, pushing the film closer outside the boundaries of good taste.

Watching Magkakapatid is truly a tricky affair. So much of it is good yet also; so much of it is bad. While it succeeds in depicting the crisscrossing paths of humor and drama, absurdity and reality, and family and society, it ultimately fails the balancing act that makes its well-meaninged depictions tolerable to the audience it seeks to communicate to.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

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