Monday, December 09, 2013

Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na (2013)

Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na (Jet Leyco, 2013)
English Title: Leave it Tomorrow for Night Has Fallen

"Bukas na lang sapagkat gabi na (Leave it tomorrow for night has fallen).” It is a phrase most commonly used by doting mothers who keep secrets from inquisitive children. Jet Leyco, who has heard the phrase as a kid curious to know the fates of his two grandfathers, takes the phrase from personal memories to encompass a nation troubled by a history of institutionalized silence.

The film opens with a montage of photographs of smoke bellowing out of the land. The photographs are revealed one by one, with bits of cryptic information, such as the year presumably when the eruption happened. They do not reveal much. In fact, the figures do not pertain to anything definite or specific, but the images themselves evoke something troubling, something pertaining to events of cataclysmic proportions. The greater tragedy however is what is not revealed, that nagging impression that something important has happened but was not disclosed for whatever reason. The montage has a feel of evidence being laid out in court, pertaining to a truth masked for decades. Without the comfort of definite answers, the pictures immediately come to life, exposing both the enormity and the spectacle of a calamity.

The rest of Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na follows the same maxim of censorship, although in various degrees and for various intentions. Its first episode, an observation of a provincial wedding as captured from the camera of an amateur videographer, reveals nothing but riddles surrounding what supposedly is a celebration of love. Mystery necessarily looms as questions trickle in from guests unlucky enough to be the subject of the videographer’s impertinent mind. Nothing is definitely divulged, just bits and pieces about a priest gone missing, rebels in hiding, and in-laws quietly fuming.

The second episode, an observation of the affairs of the communist rebels that were briefly spoken of during the wedding, concentrates on a rebel soldier’s own inability to tell his father of his homosexuality, a subject that is also taboo within the armed revolution. Leyco dissects a movement that is plagued with an identity crisis. The montage of actual footage of communist rebels that closes the episode serves as both ode and elegy to a struggle that has survived through years of being quelled into the margins of both national consciousness and history by a campaign characterized by government propaganda and censorship.

While communist rebels are struggling to topple a prohibitive regime, the clergy indulge in prohibited pleasures that are kept hidden from the public. The third episode, aptly pervaded by a certain sense of godlessness, has a young sacristan witnessing the priest perform sexual acts in his private chambers. On their way to a wedding, the priest would eventually abuse his sacristan in the guise of showing him the ropes towards his sexual awakening. Wrapping up Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na is the story of the communist rebel’s father, who is hired to drive an ice delivery truck to the military camp. Little does he know that inside the truck are bodies of fallen rebels to be used as propaganda tools by government troops to cause fear in the hearts of the villagers.

Through Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na, Leyco exhaustively and compellingly dissects a nation’s culture of suppression. He even becomes his own censor, replacing drastic sounds of gunshots with innocuous noises from low-budget sci-fi laser beams. He upends the immense gravity and seriousness of his episodes with ironic turns only a repressed over-imaginative mind can cook up. The video-captured moments prior to an imperfect wedding surprisingly give way to a sequence straight out of a cheap action flick. The abusive military’s victory over rebels is interrupted by a montage of communist propaganda. The morally depraved priest peacefully passes away with an amusingly paternal parting sermon for the sacristan he victimized. Dead rebels come back to life. Leyco proposes that fantasy, in all its shapes and forms, is but a product of a vast unknown, which is but a product of curbed information.

And who else could be the most apt mascot for censorship but Ferdinand Marcos, who masterminded an entire country’s ignorance with several decades’ worth of laws and rules that suppress basic freedoms. When Leyco, in the spirit of worthwhile mischievousness, concludes his film with the famous bust of Marcos crudely animated to mouth the same words mothers tell overly-inquisitive children, the effect is both humorous and quietly disturbing. The dictator’s shadow still looms, and his legacy remains, although evidently not in the same degree as when he was in power. Still, like children forced to sleep to dream of answers to unanswered questions, the nation remains bamboozled and blinded by tall tales and fantasies, all in the name of paltry escape from a country's persisting calamity.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Call Center Girl (2013)

Don Cuaresma's Call Center Girl: Graver Than the Graveyard Shift

Don Cuaresma’s Call Center Girl was made to entertain. There is absolutely no question about it. The movie has almost all the elements of a television sitcom. It is pregnant with gags, most of which is gratingly dull and mechanical. Its idea of substance is nothing more than motherhood statements on motherhood, which would have more effect had it been written in a greeting card than in this movie. Bereft of any real substance, it aspires for nothing else but shallow giggles that quickly dissipate once the feeling of being cheated of hard earned money starts settling in.

At the center of the movie is Pokwang who turns her role of Teresa, a recently repatriated mother, into a repetitive spectacle, or worse, a ponderous anomaly. She rapidly mouths supposedly funny nonsense, automatically bursts into tears with superhuman ease, and needlessly performs splits and stunts for no apparent reason. By the middle of the movie, the curiously charismatic comedienne has turned the hapless mother into a circus act, siphoning all humanity out of an already thinly-written character.

Yet Call Center Girl actually begs for sympathy for Teresa, who as directed by Cuaresma and portrayed by Pokwang is woefully immature. She is still insisted to be presented as the pinnacle of Filipino suffering. She is an overseas worker, slaving away in a cruise ship for the survival of her family. She returns just to be widowed and to find out that her youngest daughter (Jessy Mendiola) abhors her. Just to repair her relationship with her wayward daughter, she works with her in a call center, spending her nights selling useless fitness products to depressed Americans just to earn enough money to pay for her daughter’s whims.

If the plot is familiar, it is not because it grossly resembles reality. It is because it has been told and retold, in various other films and shows that portray the Filipino mother as constantly misunderstood and mistreated. Setting the plot within the world of call centers is nothing more than a needless front. Call Center Girl says nothing relevant about the lifestyle and profession it brazenly utilizes for its own generic purposes.

Cuaresma’s only attempt at originality lies is his effort to juggle within the sordidly schizophrenic narrative his brand of inane comedy with the requirements of sappy melodrama. The attempt is evidently a failure since never once does Call Center Girl evoke anything other than uninspired silliness.

There is very little characterization elsewhere in the movie. Every character is either a stereotype or an ornament, meant to be nothing more than an ingredient to carry on a punchline. The movie is afflicted by atrociously lazy writing. The characters, instead of being shaped from concept or the logic of the story, are just reliant on the offscreen personas and charisma of the actors and actresses playing them.

Consequently, Call Center Girl hardly feels thought out. It has the feel of sterile improvisation. It is what it was set out to be, entertainment, the cheap and horrible kind.

(First published in Rappler.)