Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taglish (2012)

Taglish (Gym Lumbera, 2012)

In response to a query as to when he felt his feature film was already finished, director Gym Lumbera replied with a statement of disarming practicality. Floodwaters have damaged the prints of Tagalog, prompting Lumbera to use them as the first part of Taglish. It is a physically excruciating watch. Eye-straining stains, scratches and shapes, caused by the untimely deterioration, turn the black and white images into odd shadows of their former forms.

At times, the eerie transformation of the images are enthralling, like when the face of an old man break and melt, turning what was once a comforting visual into something nightmarishly foreign. There is a discomforting absence of sound, further alienating the audience, accomplishing Lumbera’s goals of portraying his distrust with the rapid mutations of his mother tongue and his very own separation from the familiarity of rural life in a cinematic style that is completely his own.

The destroyed prints finally give way to the original film, Tagalog, a hypnotic elegy to provincial life which is a few minutes shy of an hour. Played by Lumbera’s own grandparents, the film’s central figures form part of the landscape of the rural world Lumbera concocts from memory. Except for its suggestions of infidelity, there is hardly a story here. Narrative is of course hardly important. By the very fact that it audaciously opens to a torturous sequence of destroyed film, Taglish does not aim to be pleasurable, at least within the standards of traditional cinema. The seemingly disparate images are linked by Lumbera by instinct, by a primal emotion, perhaps a longing for a distant past, for a quiet land where hurrying is a sin, for those whose photographs populate the ancestral home.

The muted colors of forgotten pornographic films abruptly end the run of Lumbera’s monochrome fantasy. The Caucasian characters, all of whom are parading seductively, are a break from the solitary and serene figures that populate Tagalog. The jarring change in aesthetics is hilarious. The unlikely mix of the two parts seems unlikely and sinful. However, Lumbera adventurously engages his native imaginings with borrowed footage whose rhythm, visuals and intentions are so observably contrasting to his. At once, what was previously elegant and elegiac is transformed into something lewd and lascivious. The sequence ends with a man about to reach an orgasm. The coincidental union has produced one bastard of an offspring.

The title of Lumbera’s film refers to the sub-language that intermittently mixes Tagalog and English, a result of Filipinos’ lack of mastery of either language. It reveals the extent of the country’s cultural infidelity, which manifests in the very way its people converse. With Taglish Lumbera creates, borrows, experiments, and allows to be destroyed cinematic ideas and images, all in the service of a discourse of a culture that seems to be all a result of a history of creation, appropriation, experimentation and destruction, a history that trickles down to the personal experiences of the filmmaker who finds himself torn between the hometown he left behind and the city he reluctantly now calls his home.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

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