Friday, July 29, 2011

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (2011)

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (Marlon Rivera, 2011)
English Title: The Woman in the Septic Tank

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank), directed by Marlon Rivera from a screenplay written by Chris Martinez, earns most of its laughs from the misadventures of director Rainer (Kean Cipriano), producer Bingbong (JM de Guzman), and production assistant Jocelyn (Cai Cortez), an overly ambitious troop of filmmakers who are out to make their dream film entitled "Walang Wala" by exploiting the picturesque poverty of Manila. As they brainstorm on the casting, the look, the story, the poster design, and down to the English translation of the title of their precious project, the film takes shape inside the mind of perennially quiet Jocelyn (perhaps Rivera and Martinez’s homage to the production crew rendered voiceless by noisy auteurs and capitalists), showcasing what’s depressingly wrong in the current state of Philippine filmmaking in the most hilarious of ways.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank delights in caricaturizing filmmakers, films, and the business of making films. There are practically no real characters to speak of, and no real story for the characters to navigate in. The filmmakers are just comical representations of deplorable traits of filmmakers tend to have. The plot is essentially what happens in a typical day in the pre-production of the film, where meetings, pitches, and location checks are crammed within the few working hours of the day in true independent film fashion.

Rivera and Martinez thickens what essentially is a thinly plotted experience with wit and exaggeration, creating both a chilling and charming indictment of Philippine cinema for creating monsters that feed on fame and fortune at the expense of the truly marginalized. Unfortunately, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank trips on its own trap. In its quest for some sort of comeuppance for its erring characters, it draws up a twist that makes use of the most common stereotype of poverty, which is abject criminality.

Ang Babae sa Septic Tank’s biggest commodity is reliable Eugene Domingo, who plays the various versions of "Walang Wala"’s Mila, the hapless mother of too many children who is forced to sell one of her kids to a pedophile to survive. She also plays an overly distorted version of herself. Domingo hilariously hams up the role of the overly-pampered product of mainstream projects and television shows.

Lately, Philippine cinema has been represented internationally by the films of Brillante Mendoza which are predominantly focused on lives persisting in extreme cases of poverty. With the success of Mendoza and the demand of film festival programmers for exoticized visions of third-world penury, other filmmakers followed suit, filming various stories back-grounded by mountains of trash, acres of slums, and never-ending violence.

The Philippines, sadly, is proud of a cinema that most of its citizens have not seen. It is proud of a cinema that is taken hostage by the international film festivals that dictate upon it its inevitable direction. It is proud of a cinema that is only part of a vicious cycle of international demands and artists too willing to fill in these demands. Of course, that is only one spectrum of the debate. The other spectrum belongs to what’s right in Philippine cinema, which is obviously not the focus of Martinez and Rivera and would have made the film a less effective parody.

With its brave and seamless sense of humor, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is a sure crowd-pleaser. However, let not its comedic machinations be mistakenly considered as the summation of the bigger, more complex and more beautiful thing that is Philippine cinema.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)


Anonymous said...

the most overrated film of cinemalaya in my opinion.

it was entertaining though.

Macky said...

Finally, a satire on Philippine cinema and current filmmaking trends. Eugene Domingo is outrageous!

Oggs Cruz said...

Do try to watch Ishmael Bernal's Pagdating sa Dulo, which is a far more potent and equally funny indictment on the then current trends in local filmmaking.

Macky said...

Saan pa po kaya makakahukay ng copy nun? :)

Anonymous said...


never heard Sandwich's "DVDX"? :)

A said...

I think you nailed my reservations about this film in that:

"With its brave and seamless sense of humor, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank is a sure crowd-pleaser. However, let not its comedic machinations be mistakenly considered as the summation of the bigger, more complex and more beautiful thing that is Philippine cinema."

True the humor is bar none quite good however it did feel TOO combative towards Philippine Cinema, especially indie cinema, that in the end it did feel more like a sweeping generalization of the complexities of film making. Which might be why I have such reservations because it would be dangerous to those who are completely unaware of the other filmmakers we have that don't exactly engage in this type of film making, or at least know to pay respect to their subjects e.g. Ditsi Carolino and her film Life on the Tracks which is really quite forgotten with all these poverty tourism films and documentary dramas out, that it may give audiences the wrong idea (as I've seen with the theater goers here in Glorietta). Perhaps it was a bit too vicious in its attack that it may have lost some much needed objectivity.

Doesn't help either that the director ended up letting Star Cinema handle the distribution, feels like he ended up engaging in the very thing he was making fun off.

post-it boy said...

Dear A,

I don't see anything wrong with engaging with Star Cinema because if you know the industry well enough they have the best capability to widely distribute and promote your film given a very tight budget and timetable. And as one of the producers whose goal is to produce more films in the future, to go with Star Cinema is the best decision we have made at this stage of the film's journey.

Also, Ditsi Carolino watched it and she liked it!

A, I don't think you should underestimate the audience. It was clear in the film that the filmmaker characters are a DITZY bunch.

I don't mean to be VICIOUS or COMBATIVE but, yes, I dare to put my name here. This is Chris Martinez, by the way. Hello, A, whoever you are. Loosen up! Smile!

Anonymous said...

it's a film produced, written and directed by middle-class individuals who dabble in indie filmmaking! what do you expect?

and, i agree with the first comment. OVERRATED!!!

Oggs Cruz said...

There's nothing wrong with the film being produced, written, and directed by the middle-class. Almost all films in the Philippines are produced, written and directed by the middle-class.

I have problems with the film, and post-it boy knows that ever since I've chanced upon the project, and I've written it here. However, let's also not completely dismiss the film, because beneath the exaggerations (for comedic purpose) is a reality that Philippine independent cinema has to contend with and has been discussing for years now.

I'm glad that this got a wide release, if only for the public to get interested in the films the film tries to ridicule. I'm glad the film got ratings (over or under, or whatever) it got so it gets to spark debate. Last thing I want is a cinema that remains stagnant because we're content of what foreigners and art markets expect that cinema to do.

Anonymous said...

Hello Oggs,

It was great having a nuanced discussion about this film last night and as you could probably tell, I was the one who inserted this into the script at the last minute rather than the interviewer. I think that you do have a point about criminality as an all too convenient stereotype of poverty but I also felt that the denouement was fitting to the overall theme of the film--which was, of course, about representation versus reality and the politics embedded within representation. As you said, it was a film that needed to be made despite any individual quibbles people may have with it.