Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rigodon (2005)

Rigodon (Sari Lluch Dalena & Keith Sicat, 2005)

Rigodon derives its title from the European dance inherited by the Filipinos from its colonial masters. Other than the dance, the Philippines has also inherited a level of inferiority complex and servant attitude from being colonized for more than three centuries by three imperialists (Spain, America, and Japan). Knowing that, it is not surprising to learn that Filipinos comprise the largest growing immigrant population in the United States. Married couple/co-directors Sari Lluch Dalena and Keith Sicat try to paint a bleak picture of this phenomenon. Sadly, the feature turns out to be too bleakly painted that it almost borders abstraction.

The film tackles the lives of three immigrants living in one New York apartment building. Dante (Joel Torre) is a poet who helps his co-immigrants by acquiring for them forged birth certificates and social security cards. One of Dante's customers is Amado (Arthur Acuña), a failed professional boxer who leaves his family and ailing father for greener pasteurs in America. The apartment building is owned by an American who has married Salome (Chin Chin Gutierrez), a religious devotee who fervently prays to have a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, and pink-skinned Americano child.

The three characters lives intertwine as the three of them separately indulge and suffer through the rigors of immigrant life post-9/11. New York City has changed; aside from the shown signs of a city that is mourning the destruction of its two prominent towers and the death of thousands, an air of cultural intolerance is felt. The immigrant community is most affected; Dalena and Sicat portrays such intolerance with Cold War-level communism paranoia --- an INS officer entraps Dante in a game of truth or consequence, with his future and the future of those he has helped throughout the years are at the stake.

More subtle yet telling is the way the filmmakers depict the cultural stigma that thrives in the Filipino psyche, even miles away from the motherland. The filmmakers are in love with symbolisms and almost drown the film with such. In one scene, after learning of his father's death, Amado dreams of his mother haunting him --- it can be argued that the apparition is not of Amado's biological mother but of the symbolic motherland who still haunts him, and threatens him to not forget and to return. Salome, on the other hand, is the superlative personication of one who lives for the American dream; she suffers through a loveless marriage, lusts for her countrymen, with the faintest hope of solidifying her Americano status (by bearing an American child). In her dream sequence, she takes part in a four-way orgy (most symbolically and poetically depicted though) --- her two Filipino peers indulge on her while her Caucasian husband, in what I thought was the film's single (sadly) humorous moment is left passionately and most unfortunately satisfying himself with merely his wife's feet.

The film's most powerful note does not stem from the three main characters' experiences, but from a Muslim Filipino family's little anecdote. They were brought to America by their Egyptian father; their stay there becomes uncertain because of the numerous cases of deportation. I thought the family showcased the dual nature of these Filipinos --- those arguably unaffected by colonization; referred to as Filipinos merely because of their geographic connection to the motherland, but are treated as strangers in their own land. In the outcome of Dante's story's, the family is faced with the question of saving themselves or staying true to the person who initially helped them. They do the former, and sells Dante to the INS officer; the decision is harsh but understandable --- when their only connection to their countrymen is geography, in America, that connection seems to be lessened or completely lost.

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