Tuesday, October 11, 2011

San Lazaro (2011)



San Lazaro (Wincy Ong, 2011)

If Wincy Ong’s San Lazaro were a student in a classroom full of recent films from the Philippines, which necessarily includes important works from Lav Diaz, Raya Martin and Brillante Mendoza, it would probably be sitting in the back, an unnoticeable weirdo among the overachievers and underachievers that fill the room. It is a film that does not seem to belong to the room, given that it is inherently oblivious to anything and everything that is supposed to be pertinent to the so-called new wave in Philippine cinema, except to the irreverence and humor that persists in the cinema even amidst its usual heft and seriousness.

It is not that the film lacks ambition or rejects relevance or that ambition and relevance are essential elements of films. San Lazaro disguises itself as horror yet it is most apparent that its primary purpose is not to shock or scare. It is intriguingly unhinged, with characters that are grounded more on humorous illogic than common sense. In a way, Ong has crafted a film that is reminiscent of David Lynch’s works, except that it is fuelled by artificial uppers instead of the usual dreams, nightmares and other insanity-induced things. There’s probably a tad more self-conscious wit and weirdness than needed, but it never crosses-over to being something that is more annoying or frustrating than entertaining.

The story’s simple enough. Sigfried (Ong), a random loser who has contented himself by learning useless skills from YouTube, is suddenly plucked from his uneventful existence by Limuel (Ramon Bautista), his previous classmate whom he has not communicated with since their school days, to bring Limuel’s brother (Nicco Manalo), who seems to be possessed by some sort of evil spirit, to his uncle (Allan Forte), a singing exorcist, in the faraway town of San Lazaro. It’s basically a road movie, peppered with details that make it delightfully off-tangent and curiously engaging.

Ong and Bautista’s odd coupling undoubtedly highlights the experience. It’s a grand balancing act they admirably commit to. Wearing sheens of fantabulous seriousness, the two prance around in the obviously made-up world where everything is not exactly topsy-turvy but deliciously creeping its way there. There is always that sense that everything is an inside joke, yet Ong and Bautista are formidable in their ploy, resulting in cautious giggles. The other characters that populate that world are mostly oddballs and other contrivances, teasing the audience of many more stories that have not been told, and seemingly conspirators with Ong and Bautista in what could either be a well-orchestrated prank or a product of tilted genius.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

8 comments:

lilokpelikula said...

i beg to disagree on some points, as i find the film uneven and the experience of watching it a little underwhelming. there are lots of scenes that could have worked if wincy isn't holding back. the comic timing is really off at times. the movie's pretty to look at, yes (the flashbacks are nice) but it doesn't jump far enough.

Oggs Cruz said...

I also beg to disagree with your suggestions. What I enjoyed the most about the film is the feeling that it is neither this, neither that. You can't pinpoint whether Wincy wanted to make you laugh, make you feel uneasy, or get you scared. It's just there, unraveling before you. Had Wincy pushed further, sure, it would be funnier, it would probably be scarier, but it won't be as memorable, at least for me.

Anonymous said...

The audio quality was too terrible for me to get immersed & I felt it was a wannabe Wes Anderson dry humor sort of thing. The structure of the storytelling is quite confusing; 3 POVs, multiple flashbacks & TONS of exposition... what ever happend to show don't tell? But I did laugh at the whole "ako si Captain Barbel" thing, like it was one joke that needed a whole film to be effective. I really wanted to like the film since the DIY effort behind it is immense. All the faults that turn me off from the film seem to be what you like most about it, to each his/her own talaga - Sandra

lilokpelikula said...

I agree with what Sandra said up there. The dry humor didn't work because the director's too conscious of making it dry. For the most part, the film doesn't know what it wants to be, so it just fires its quirks left and right aimlessly.

Oggs Cruz said...

Those aimless quirks made San Lazaro's world more detached from reality and in turn, made the film more intriguing for me.

Anonymous said...

Oggs, who else have reviewed this movie besides you? Is there a Philbert Dy review? Or a Richard Bolisay review? I can't seem to find any from the top critics. When was this shown?

Oggs Cruz said...

I don't think Phil or Chard have written an article on the film, but they have their thoughts written in various locations in the internet. Dodo Dayao has a beautiful article here: http://pelikula.blogspot.com/2011/07/san-lazaro.html

Anonymous said...

I understand this film premiered at the Cinemalaya NETPAC category. I heard the film Boundary by Benito Bautista won best picture for it. Have you seen that film Mr. Cruz? I would really love to hear your take on that. Thanks. - Ligaya