The Gospel According to a Weng Weng-Wannabe
A Confession as to How Son of God Restored My Faith on Faith
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz
An aerial view of Manila, dull and dreary with its sea of tin roofs and tangled electric lines, opens Khavn dela Cruz and Michael Noer’s Son of God. This is not Mondomanila, a garbage-filled metropolis populated with overjoyed nobodies living in the most depressed of situations as can only be composed by Khavn. This is Manila, the same city where the stories of fatedly sorrowful migrants of Lino Brocka’s films are set, the same city where the stories of the corrupted and corruptible men of Brillante Mendoza’s cinema verite are situated.
However, Khavn and Noer, a Danish filmmaker, instead of similarly dwelling in the hopelessness of the severely impoverished, focuses on their crazed hopefulness. From the high heavens, they bring down their vision to an annual event, the Feast of the Black Nazarene, where the most faithful, who are also arguably the poorest, in Manila converge in the grounds of the Quiapo Church to relay their innermost desires and needs to a supposedly ancient replica of Jesus Christ, darkened by time and circumstance.
To call this disorganized gathering of the cluelessly good, the predatory bad, and the inexplicably ugly carnivalesque is an understatement. Son of God, carried in an ornate throne, is paraded into the Feast grounds by two bulky men wearing ceremonial masks. The image is too ridiculous to be believed, but in a buffet table of Jesus-wannabes presented to desperate men and women whose hunger for miracles can only be matched by their hunger for actual food, he fits right in, gaining for himself a bevy of followers.
He has also gained a critic, a documentary filmmaker (superbly played by Noer) whose disbelief prompts him to follow the self-proclaimed miracle worker to ultimately reveal the fraud he thinks is happening. He asks Son of God questions; all leading to the answer he is looking for, that Son of God is doing his act for money. Yet Son of God answers them with creepy reverence, dodging any implication of ill motive. He documents the miracles that occur too. A mother presents her unconscious sick baby. The moment Son of God touches the baby, the baby bursts in motion. The lines are blurred. Faith on faithlessness is tested. Is Son of God the son of God?
That question is of course only a dilemma to the faithless filmmaker. Khavn and Noer’s viewers are saved from deliberating on the merits of Son of God. He is fake, an actor plucked from somewhere in the city to be part of one of the biggest pranks in Philippine Cinema. Khavn and Noer emphasizes the word “mock” in mock-umentary, and colors the film, from start to finish, with an impish attitude, a discernible notion that the entire film is fueled not by a desire to be seriously sacrilegious but by a desire to have fun in poking holes at both the faithful and the faithless.
The film is actually favored by the overt bad taste that functions as its cornerstones. The film’s most hilarious moments occur when all pretenses of approximating truth and reality are thrown out the window, such as when an actual heart a glass jar inside is brought to Son of God’s attention to have him question his own faith, leading him on a quest, where he dons robes that could have been a costume in George Lucas’ Star Wars, to climb a mountain to regain both his faith and his healing powers. Shot in the same style as Brillante Mendoza’s real-time dramas, the images gain further comedic prominence, the same way Terry Gilliam’s Life of Brian was utterly funny not just because of the jokes played but also because it was shot and executed like an extravagant Zifferelli Christ-pageant.
Son of God, more than just functioning as a humorous yet shallow satire on the ludicrousness of being overly faithful, proposes the mechanics why poor Filipinos and faith are not strange bedfellows. Faith exists here because there is a need for it in the absence of everything else. Faith equates to hope and hope equates to happiness despite having nothing. In the eyes of a foreigner filmmaker who has everything, this immense faith is strange especially when there is no showing for its presence. What else is faith for then when the world provides in abundance? The miracle of the film is that in their exercise of mockery of the faith, Khavn and Noer, whether intentionally or not, has preached truth.
(Cross-published in Twitch. First published in Philippine Free Press.)