Friday, January 04, 2013

Indelible Memories from 2012

Indelible Memories from 2012
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

There isn’t any other year in Philippine cinema where the aroma of death is as apparent and overwhelming as 2012. The year saw the untimely demise of four of the country’s film pioneers: Mario O’Hara, an amazing actor, writer, and director whose frequent collaborations with National Artist Lino Brocka are eclipsed by his very own masterworks; Marilou Diaz-Abaya, one of the country’s most beloved directors whose respect for the power of cinema manifested in her very tasteful and mannered works; Celso Ad Castillo, whose unique genius and madness reflected in the many timeless masterpieces he directed; and Dolphy, who gave several generations of Filipinos the ability to surpass life’s difficulties with laughter.

The year’s more notable independent productions also deal with death: Jun Lana’s Bwakaw, the country’s hope for the very elusive Oscar trophy, has an old gay man suffering through the unremarkable last years of his life; Dwein Baltazar’s Mamay Umeng, a striking debut, exposes ennui in a geriatric’s patient wait to cross-over to the afterlife; Loy Arcenas’ REquieme, the theater director’s follow-up to the lovely Nino, has tales of mortality humorously intertwine by fate; Emmanuel Palo’s Sta. Nina has a once dormant town burst with life when a father uncovers the incorruptible corpse of his daughter who died several years ago; Mes de Guzman’s Diablo literally has the shadow of death, or some other entity, lingering over a lonely mother.

The year’s more prominent documentaries tackle the same subject: Michael Collins’ Give Up Tomorrow has then death row convict Paco Larranaga ponder over his own mortality amidst the threat of being executed over a crime he supposedly did not commit; Benito Bautista’s Harana laments the dying art of serenade; Jay Abello’s Pureza: The Story of Negros Sugar laments the impending death of a national industry and an island’s extravagant way of life.

This gnawing awareness of mortality seems to be a repercussion of this year’s much-ballyhooed doomsday. However, the country’s more prominent commercial studios, the unashamed peddlers of fairy tales and fantasies, seem unfazed by the world’s impending end, churning out films that are nothing more than temporary alleviations to the world’s pressing concerns. Their rom-coms remain predictably breezy, tweaking only certain aspects of the formula to feign edginess. Their comedies remain predictably brazen, primarily reliant on cruel wit and dull craftsmanship. Their horrors remain predictably brooding, taking each and every opportunity to shock with tricks and noises because true horror takes too much time and creativity to conjure. Then there is that rising subgenre of infidelity films like Erik Matti’s Rigodon, Olivia’s Lamasan’s The Mistress and Nuel Naval’s A Secret Affair that allow each and every bored wife and horny husband to vicariously experience through the fake stories played out by exaggeratedly attractive stars the thrills and chills of an extra-marital affair.

Despite the stubborn and fatalistic mood of this cinematic year, it is still a year marked with painful revelations, beautiful reunions and admirable persistence. It is a year that had Cinemalaya shaken and the myth of its humble grant and immense prestige challenged. It is also the year that had the long-absent Nora Aunor acting for film again and reaping accolades as a result. It is the year that had the government’s film agency try its hand in grant-giving and film-producing, had local government units take a stab in investing in the filmic arts, and ordinary film enthusiasts take an active role in filmmaking by contributing in various kickstarter campaigns.

I don’t think it is death that marks this year in Philippine cinema. It is memory. It is resilience. It is struggle. We remember the past and our fallen heroes. Film festivals like Cinemalaya and filmmakers like Emerson Reyes succeed despite adversity. Filipino cinema is as vibrant as ever. In the most indelible image from Lav Diaz’s Florentina Hubaldo CTE, one of the best films from this year, we see a woman who is afflicted with a disease that makes it hard for her to remember painfully reciting her name, her situation, her story. This year, Philippine cinema is that poor woman, struggling to tell its story, so it won’t be forgotten, not even after the end of the world.

(A shortened version was first published in Rogue, December issue as "A Year of Local Cinema.")


Tomás Binder said...

Dear Oggs,

My name is Tomás Binder, I'm a film critic from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I write for Kilómetro 111-Essays on film, a film magazine/book published annually since 2000. On the 2013 issue we're writing an essay on radicality in contemporary cinema, in which we discuss this notion through the works of Sergei Loznitsa, James Benning, Sharon Lockhart and Raya Martin. Our essays are always accompanied by articles, written by international authors, which discuss the themes around which each issue is organized. This is why we are interested in translating and publishing your three pieces on Raya Martin's films: those on Autohystoria, A short film about the Indio Nacional, and Independencia.

Being ours a non-profit magazine, we are sadly unable to pay for the rights of your works. We can, however, send you a copy of our magazine and ensure a thoughtful translation.

We hope to hear from you shortly,

Tomás Binder.

PS: Although this is a paper magazine, you can have a look at our web-page: You'll find the index of our last issues and will be able to read extracts of some of our essays.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Tomas, thanks for your message. Please feel free to use my work. Thank you for informing me beforehand.

Tomás Binder said...

Forgot to ask: is there any book or essay on Raya Martin´s work, from a general perspective, which you´d specially recommend.

Thanks again.