Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Boundary (2011)

Boundary (Benito Bautista, 2011)

Confined mostly within the very small spaces provided for by the cabs, taxi drivers live lives that are well-suited for cinema. Although they are forced to interact with people of various personalities, needs and intentions, this human interaction is limited to services being offered and stories being shared in the interim. They are constantly embattled, by drowsiness when forced to drive nights, by paranoia when a particular passenger raises suspicions, by desperation when the shift’s earnings are not enough to cover the cab owner’s quota leaving them with hardly any income to live with. Within the rigid confines of their cabs and their means of livelihood, they witness, either through the endless tirades of newscasters in the radio programs they listen to or through actual experiences, the worst of what a corrupt society can deal to a person.

Boundary starts ominously. Coke Polipata’s violin wails in the background as a dishevelled and obviously paranoia-stricken cab driver (Ronnie Lazaro) opts for a snack in what seems to be an ironically idyllic riverside park. Within the first few minutes of the film, director Benito Bautista orchestrates a view of Manila that is intriguingly unhinged. He carefully sows the seeds of suspicion, which will eventually color the atmosphere of the film. The film retreats from the temporary comforts of day as it follows the cab driver as he plies the crowded streets of Manila well into the night. At this juncture, Bautista allows a glimpse of the city from a distance and away the jaded eyes of his overworked protagonist, evoking a certain calm amidst the chaos of the city before plunging his viewers into a more intimate yet intense look of how that seemingly disconnected bigger picture finds its way into the most contained of spaces.

From then on, Bautista follows the cab driver as he picks up a well-dressed man (Raymond Bagatsing) who asks to be driven to nearby Antipolo. Beneath exteriors defined by random acts of decency and conversations marked by normalcy, both the driver and his passenger are in fact brewing plans of their own.

The action is mostly set inside the cab, with the storytelling done mostly through the conversations the cab driver has with his passenger and the characterization limited to the stories relayed, the mannerisms, gestures, and other occasional quirks. The paranoia Bautista invested in early on manages to color the prolonged sequences within the cramped interior of the cab with tremendous foreboding, carrying the film despite being constricted with its location with a sizeable portion of uneasiness and tension. From within the cab, safety from the viciousness of the street is in fact an illusion as desperation creeps into the picture, forcing the cab driver to survive amidst all odds.

Boundary falters only in narrative logic. Bautista succeeds in establishing the dangers of uncertainty in the familiar. However, the screenplay, which Bautista co-wrote with John Bedia, is peppered with holes, raising more questions of logistics and practicality rather than answering them. This, of course, is a minor and forgivable problem considering that everything else seems so masterfully orchestrated, from Bolipata and Paolo Peralta’s unsettling score to McCoy Ternate’s aptly economic cinematography to Chuck Gutierrez’s intelligent editing. In the end, Bautista has crafted a firm and suspenseful thriller whose clever twist in the end puts both perspective and pertinence to its constricting but intriguingly exciting process.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

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