Three Decades of Philippine Shorts
Perhaps the most exciting entry to the Philippine New Wave program of the 66th edition of the Edinburgh International Film Festival is “Three Decades of Philippine Shorts,” a collection, curated by Khavn dela Cruz, of vastly diverse but intriguing short works from some of the greatest talents that emerged during the waning years of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Mike de Leon. If one is to carefully pinpoint a running theme from selected films, one can sense that all of the films resonate a strong affinity for Kidlat Tahimik’s brand of experimental but deeply personal oeuvre.
There seems to be something in the no-budget, guerrilla, and largely impromptu style of filmmaking that Kidlat Tahimik committed to in response to the overblown and star-filled spectacles that his contemporaries were dabbling in that arouses depth in creativity. All of the films in the program are but seeds of the ingenuity and the resilience of the filmmakers, then disenfranchised by capitalist studios and their bamboozled mobs, who are now marking their roles in the nation’s cinema as both old and new pioneers of the ongoing Philippine new wave.
Jet Leyco’s Patlang (Blank, 2011) starts seemingly as a run-of-the-mill melodrama, covering what possibly is a young girl’s heartbreak. From there, it jumps into a wormhole, transporting the film to various places. The short’s both an exercise of style and rhythm, and a mystifying document of the personal and the political converging in the most intriguing of ways. Jon Lazam’s Nang Gabing Maging Singlaki ng Puso ang Bato ni Darna (Darna: A Stone is a Heart You Can’t Swallow, 2012) was made for a short film competition that focused on works that lament the sorrowful state of film preservation. In the film, Lazam weaves together his penchant for pop culture via the understated romances of Filipino Wonder Woman Darna and her boy-toy Nardo and his concern for the rapid disappearance of such pop culture because of film decay. In one of the short’s most memorable scenes, Nardo rides his boat from the imperfections of decades-old film to high definition, a connection was sparked, elusive but real, just like love.
Like a Murakami fiction, John Torres’ Hai, They Recycle Heartbreaks in Tokyo so Nothing’s Wasted (2009) treats Tokyo with both a resident’s familiarity and a foreigner’s curiosity, displaying outdoors bathed in warmth and indoors of strange shapes and sizes. He eventually tells a story, and allows us a view from what seems to be the nostrils of a father, peeking into the beauty of a concerned loved one, into forgotten regrets, and perpetual memories. The genius of Renei Patricia Dimla’s Anomie (2008) does not lie in the social ills it attempts to expose but in the way they are exposed. Animated in a way that belongs more in children’s shows than social commentaries, the film enunciates the absurdity of the Philippine situation, where the rich and poor are both miles apart in the human condition and inches close when interacting with each other.
Antoinette Jadaone has an adman’s efficiency, an indie filmmaker’s resourcefulness, and an artist’s wit and advocacy. In Saling Pusa (Tag-along, 2006), she displays all three traits with fascinating finesse. A young girl plays cards and gambles with neighbourhood thugs. As the stakes get higher from random change to the tools of their trade, the little girl becomes more like young Jadaone, a severely talented newbie in an industry of big guns and cutthroats. In Apple (2005), Sherad Sanchez’s crafts his very own version of purgatory that is pretty much close to home. Prayers and novenas are heard in the background, ultimately drowned by the ominous noises of the night. An atrocious scene happens behind closed doors, cementing the depravity that’s draped in Catholic faithfulness. Everything else is just a faint and flimsy excuse to escape the ironies of a compromised humanity.
R. A. Rivera’s Chicken Soup II (1999) is a treasure trove of the weird and the strange that only becomes artful and meaningful after severe bouts of the laidback boredom that’s shared by the jobless and dormitory students. There’s wistful wisdom and hapless humor to Rivera’s sometimes impenetrable methods for those willing to swim with his madness. A satire on the past and present state of Philippine politics where the power players are quick to swear on lightning striking them from above should they be caught lying, Joey Agbayani’s Kidlat (Lightning, 1989) is replete with visual metaphors and wry humor that make the film relevant beyond the peaceful 1986 Manila revolution that inspired it.
Like an ungodly chant, the words “botika,” or drugstore, and “bituka,” or stomach, are spoken over and over again while images of food and drugs in overpopulated Manila are rapidly displayed in Cesar Hernando’s inimitable Botika Bituka (1985). As the sounds and visuals eventually meld, the connections and disconnections are established, evoking a social irony that is so apparent in the Philippines, it is even observable in its people’s everyday vocabulary. The Great Smoke (1984), Roxlee’s anti-atomic bomb agitprop, both shocks and tickles at the same time. While the juxtaposition of the realities of the dangers of nuclear war and the director’s animated sketches and cartoons can be seen as insensitive and uncalled for, it can also be regarded as bold and brash as it is the same marriage of the very real and the very absurd that drives the point of abject stupidity in some nations’ maintenance of these weapons of mass destruction.
Finally, there’s Raymond Red’s masterpiece, Ang Magpakailanman (Eternity, 1982), which at first glance seems to be the authentic thing, a Filipino silent film salvaged from decay. However, the film’s more modern sensibilities betray its borrowed form. Its concern for history and the present, its self-conscious dictates in its aesthetics, the abundance of style, all of these point towards an art that is more grounded on the anti-establishment and truly independent sentiments that drove the Mowelfund filmakers where Red was a very prominent figure and some of the present independent filmmakers where Red remains to be a consistent source of inspiration.