Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Girl on the Train (2009)

The Girl on the Train (André Téchiné)
French Title: Le fille du RER

Dubbing the two halves of The Girl on the Train circumstance and consequence only tempts the film’s audience to utilize common logic within the context of the film's vaporous contraption, which is a narrative that left turns, right turns, u-turns, and jumps in and out of situations exactly like life. As a matter of fact, there is actually no puzzle to solve, no mystery to unravel, and no mess to unspool.

Téchiné's connected characters, Jeanne (Émilie Dequenne), the eponymous girl on the train, Franck (Nicolas Duvauchelle), the tattooed wrestler who indefatigably courts Jeanne and eventually becomes her boyfriend, Louise (Catherine Deneuve), Jeanne's mother who had an erstwhile romance with Jewish advocate lawyer Samuel (Michel Blanc), appear in and out of each other's lives, completely un-designed by any intelligent force. If the subtitles of the two halves of the film have any relevance at all, it is only to elucidate the film's underlying conceit, which is about Jeanne's overblown lie about being mugged by anti-Semitic hooligans while on the train which led to much public exposure, and to detail what happened before the lie and what happens after the lie, nothing more.

The film’s narrative is snatched from the headlines of the newspaper, about a girl who conjures a hate crime incident that was blown out of proportions, and hatched by Téchiné into a collection of moods loosely spun together by the conveniences of fate and human nature. Thus, Jeanne’s daily routine of rollerblading through the streets of Paris to look for work to going home with the persistent greetings of her mother to find better job opportunities, say, a secretarial job in the law firm of Samuel, is abruptly interrupted by Franck, a sullen-looking young man whose demeanor betrays his affinity for hopeless romanticism. The carefree disposition of Jeanne, as punctuated by how she rollerblades or commutes completely oblivious of her surroundings, morphs gradually as she becomes more and more involved with someone or something, turning into something more brazen yet restrictive, even suffocating.

Consider this particular montage in Jeanne and Franck’s budding romance, where we get only glimpses of an internet conversation, infrequently cut to detail the progression of the video conference, starting from the two being completely clothed, then a top off, another article off, and the rest falls into the audience’s already enticed imagination. More than exemplifying the expanded bounds of sexual relationships in the digital age, the sequence spices it up with foreboding, an unexplainable sense of mischief and danger in the steaming eroticism. Never have I seen internet sex depicted with both arresting frankness, and the effect is quite stirring: a mixture of being seduced into their pixelated seduction and of being forewarned of the brewing pixilated love affair. Simply, Téchiné inflicts tension with astounding precision.

Even in the most genial of situations and surroundings, Téchiné’s astute sensibilities expand moods, further possibilities and consequences, and evoke mysterious undercurrents. There is always a sense of things not being right, not what they seem, and that there is more to Téchiné’s filmmaking than what you can see, hear, or even feel from the moving images and sounds he so efficiently conjures; that the film is hardly about these pertinent portions of its characters’ lives, or even about the nagging bigger picture of a national insecurity that was momentarily exposed by an insignificant girl’s irrational decision to lie. It is all that and more of that, and as the film exchanges perspectives, from the volatile and emotional motivations of Jeanne to the calculated machinations of Samuel, his son, and son’s wife, we are exposed to a matrix of human relations --- cultural, social, political and whatnot --- that governs lives that can only be experienced and not explained.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Emir (2010)

Emir (Chito Roño, 2010)

"To invest funds and other assets in such activities or undertakings that shall directly and indirectly promote development of the film industry, including the production of films and other terms and conditions as it may deem wise and desirable;"
- Section 3 (9), Republic Act 9167 entitled "An Act Creating the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Defining its Powers and Functions, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and Other Purposes"

Chito Roño's Emir, a seventy-million peso endeavor by the Film Development Council of the Philippines, with generous funding from the President's social funds and other government sponsorships or partnerships, looks exactly the part. Set in the most picturesque locations in the Philippines, from the grandiose Banaue Rice Terraces to the rustic Paoay Church, and Morocco, the film is mostly lovely to look at, exactly like moving musical postcards from various touristy destinations. The film also sounds expensive, with the several musical numbers utilizing full orchestrations to sweeping and rousing effect. It seems that every peso of the film’s unusually hefty budget was appropriately spent.

The question remains. Is Emir, a movie that tackles the experiences of Filipino overseas contract workers, deserving of such governmental support? Considering that the mandate of the Council is for the development of the film industry and not the promotion of overseas labor or local and international tourism, is the decision to concentrate such a budget on one expensive production a wise one, when it would be undoubtedly more helpful for the development of the film industry if such immense budget was spread to many filmmakers who have films that are just waiting for a fraction of the seventy million pesos to get made? The reasons and rationales for Emir’s existence is of course are in the arena of discretion, discretion that it is of the greatest import to celebrate the accomplishments of overseas contract workers through a film, an expensive musicale that is half-set in a foreign country. Decisions arising from discretion are sadly a very difficult thing to controvert, and suspicious minds can only entertain, well, suspicions. The film has been made, and the issue of whether or not this decision based on the discretion of a government whose past discretions or indiscretions have always been questioned but have never been answered is proper is better discussed in other venues.

Partly based on the true story of a crown prince of an Arab nation who can fluently speak both Tagalog and Ilokano, Emir tells the story of Amelia (Frencheska Farr), the daughter of poor farmers who travels to Yememeni, the fictional oil-rich Arab nation that is on the verge of being invaded by its neighbors, to be able to reverse the fortune of her family. She is employed in the household of a sheik and is assigned to be the nanny of the sheik’s only son. True to her job, she rears the child not only to be appreciative of Filipino culture but to treat that culture as his very own, often interrupting his expected English or Arabic with bursts of fluently-spoken Filipino phrases. While not tending to her ward, she either swoons for a half-Arabic half-Filipino man (Sid Lucero) or entangles herself with the issues of her co-workers.

Admittedly, there is something engrossing about telling the stories of these so-called modern heroes, those Filipino men and women who risk parting with their families and endangering their lives to earn enough for their families back home and whose only connection with the motherland is through these Filipino-made microphone-like contraptions that showcase Philippine vistas while displaying the lyrics to all-time favorite karaoke tunes, through song. However, Emir, even with its string of original songs, cannot muster enough sincerity to even approximate a fraction of the overseas experience. The film seems satisfied in approximating its influences, from its opening number, where hyperactive nurses, construction workers and dancers back-flip and gyrate to the incoherent rhythm of a song about the promises of overseas employment, which feels like a ghastly mix of Disney and Demy, to the lone near-lifeless Bollywood number where non-Filipino employees of the sheik suddenly enter the picture and dance to a pseudo-Arabic ditty, in token acknowledgment of their existence.

Save for O, Maliwanag na Buwan (O, Shining Moon), a high-powered duet that resembles the raw emotionality and the unabashed lyricism of Aegis’ greatest hits, and is sung sublimely by heartbroken Amelia and Tersing (Kalila Aguilos), who at that given point in the film were both left by their men, all of the songs of this musicale are fleeting and unremarkable.

Had its uninspiring musicality been its only problem, Emir could still have been a mildly entertaining diversion. However, the film propagates a dangerous fantasy of a reality that gnaws on the very core of what essentially is a national pride. In Hindi Ko Pinangarap (I Never Ambitioned), the musical number where Ester (powerfully played by veteran singer-actress Dulce), who recently resigned from her job as governess of the house, proceeds to convince Amelia to take the job, she pronounces that the job she reluctantly gave up is the pinnacle of their existences, irresponsibly reinforcing a culture of highly-paid servitude as opposed to self-fulfillment. This is basically the problem with Emir. While it is unwise to blind ourselves to the reality that the Philippines is surviving because it is exporting labor to richer nations, Emir never regards this resignation to this new form of colonization (a near-accurate term especially because this system of economy that relies solely on the fact that other nations are in need of Filipinos’ services and have the capacity to pay for Filipinos’ services result in the Philippines’ being subservient to other countries’ superior wealth), as a serious problem, which it is.

As it is, Emir treats all these, from the very real problems of these immigrant workers to the bigger picture of the country being taken hostage by employer nations, as popcorn entertainment, equivalent to a weekend noon-time variety show and nothing more. The fact that the government, in all its benevolent discretion, decided to go this way in its efforts to improve film production in the country, makes the pain, although forcibly disguised in fancy colors and upbeat tunes, even more resounding.

(Cross-published on Twitch.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Short Article about the Films of the Indio Nacional

Raya Martin's Long Live Philippine Cinema! (2007)

A Short Article about the Films of the Indio Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipino Cinema)
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

Long live Philippine Cinema!”

The phrase, proudly proclaimed by Lav Diaz during his acceptance speech during the Venice Film Festival a couple of years ago when his film Death in the Land of Encantos was given the Special Mention prize in the Horizons section of the prestigious film festival, appears on the tin can that houses a film reel, whose history, as we have witnessed during the six or so minutes prior to that penultimate image, is tainted with violence. That violence is singularly directed towards a Chinese woman who based on the various posters that adorn the walls of her office, most of which seem to advertise inane comedies or titillating dramas, is a movie producer. The Chinese woman is not Mother Lily, the owner of Regal Films, one of the Philippines’ biggest film studios, but a mere alter-ego, a cardboard cut-out of who she is in real life, purposely over-simplified into a stereotype of a shrewd businesswoman whose only reason for dabbling in film is because it is a lucrative commodity in the country. With the studio matriarch transformed into a mere cardboard cut-out, the short film’s brave director is free to do to her and whatever evil she represents as he wants. Thus, she is shot in the heart, burned, and her office, a treasure trove of the country’s cinematic legacy, robbed of the prizes it contains.

Long live Philippine Cinema!,” at least for intrepid young filmmaker Raya Martin, whose seven-minute satire I previously described borrows the words of the declaration to use as its title, has nothing to do with resuscitating the old Philippine cinema of the capitalist establishment, whose tradition of equating the filmic art with entertainment and profit is now being rendered obsolete by its powerlessness against the invasion of Hollywood. The declaration involves more drastic measures, changing perspectives and shifting paradigms, stealing from that unfortunate past whatever can be saved for the future, and breaking the rules for the single purpose of breathing life to the new Philippine cinema, a cinema that has for its fuel not the thirst for box-office domination but a pure independent spirit. As it turns out, this independent spirit, a concept whose meaning has been expanded, abbreviated, skewed and restricted to suit certain sectors, is the booster that would re-launch a long-absent film culture into the consciousness of the rest of the world.

Kidlat Tahimik termed this independent spirit “sariling dwende,” referring to native mythic creatures that supposedly reside in every artist and should be the lone basis of the artist’s every creative output. With the democratization of filmmaking through the proliferation of the digital medium, the entire studio process, repercussions of which include personal visions being compromised by the need to recoup investments, can be totally eliminated. Because of that, films, most of which would not even be created under the studio system, have been made by filmmakers, most of whom would never have the opportunity to make films under the controlling and restrictive studio system and this collection of films and filmmakers, separated from the cheap junk that the digital revolution has also given birth to, has been referred to by critics and curators everywhere as the “Philippine new wave.” As with all movements in cinema or the arts in general, this so-called new wave in Philippine cinema has its front-liners whose works, all of which are as varied as their aesthetics and artistic motivations.

Brillante Mendoza, having recently won the coveted Best Director prize in Cannes for Kinatay (The Execution of P, 2009), is probably the most immediately recognizable of the Filipino directors in the showcase. A direct inheritor of Lino Brocka’s social realism, he approaches his subjects with the intensity of a documentarian. Critics have rallied against his films as predominantly pornographic, where the Philippines’ extreme poverty is being utilized as exoticized commodities for the consumption of foreigners in their film festivals. However, this restrictive interpretation of Mendoza’s films will only betray the honesty he devotes to analyzing humanity in the midst of dire circumstances.

In Kinatay, a young man who is studying to be a cop takes a van ride to the lowest depths of corruption when he takes part in the execution of an indebted prostitute. The premise seems to be something any other director would exploit visually, but in Mendoza’s hands, the camera is either exploring the contours of the young man’s face or observes the murder and the atrocious chopping of the corpse in side glances to depict a humanizing restraint from evil. Lola (Grandmother, 2009), made in the same year as Kinatay, details the struggles of two grandmothers in opposite ends of the justice spectrum. More than a commentary on the ills of an ineffective bureaucracy within the country’s court system, it is an ode to the extreme lengths these elderly women would go through for their grandchildren. Pessimistic as the premises of his film are, Mendoza nonetheless finds humanity, whether it be something as horrific as our predisposition for corruption or something as idealistic as perseverance, under inhuman circumstances.

Adolfo Alix, Jr., whose industriousness in making films (he makes an average of three to four features per year) is both blessing and bane, similarly explores an elderly woman on her eightieth birthday in Adela (2008). Alix, who wrote screenplays for director Gil Portes before debuting as film director in Donsol in 2006, has always utilized cinema as an instrument for telling his stories. Adela turns out to be his most honest work, a heart-wrenching portrait of a woman who is suffering from undeserved loneliness in the twilight of her life. The last scene of Adela (a beautiful performance by veteran actress Anita Linda) sitting on the beach, weeping and alone, is probably Alix’s finest moment as a filmmaker. Manila, the second half of which is an update to Brocka’s Jaguar (1979) that he wrote and directed, is his tribute to late great filmmaker.

The first half of Manila, a re-imagination of Ishmael Bernal’s City After Dark (1980) by Raya Martin, is nonsensical but still seductive and hypnotic to watch. Carried mostly by an atmosphere of jazz-induced pointlessness (the portion follows a man on his quest for his drug fix), the film is truly a product of a creative mind, brimming with ideas that are unhindered by expectations or convention. The scope and breadth of Martin’s work at such an early age is staggering. In between Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo (The Island at the End of the World, 2005), a documentary about the Itbayats of the northernmost islands of the Philippines, and Independencia (Independence, 2009), a hyper-stylized historical meditation on the meaning of independence, Martin has tirelessly made more than a dozen short and feature films, that while immaculately distinct from each other partake a similarity that is grounded on Martin’s very personal passions that ranges from national history to the intricacies of filmmaking.

Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo is as cryptic as its title suggests. Fashioned like a travelogue but inevitably morphing into an anthropological study on a people separated from the country by distance as it goes along, the documentary is at once an immersive cultural work and an examination of the malleability of cinema. Life Projections (2006), made as reaction to the Guimaras oil spill which is reputed to be the second largest oil spill in the world that reportedly affected the ecology and the residents of the island, has more to say about cinema than it does about the kneejerk subject of the oil spill. A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (or the Prolonged Sorrow of the Filipino) (2006) is the expanded version of his student thesis film which was rumored to have been dismissed by his professors in the University of the Philippines. As it turns out, Indio Nacional is probably one of the most radical films ever made, as it is structured like a series of silent vignettes. The narrative is loose and almost non-existent, about a group of actors on the verge of joining the war. The fascinating facet of the film has more to do with how it laments the reality of history as opposed to the illusion of cinema, how the history of the Philippines is written from the perspective of the privileged while the masses, whose records are unwritten, are left to be forgotten.

Independencia, the second film in the trilogy that Indio Nacional initiated, is a far more polished. Its tale of a family retreating to the forest to escape the invading Americans is told with the technological limitations and style of Hollywood cinema of the thirties and forties. The painted backgrounds, the mannered acting, and the fake newsreel that divides the film into two halves, places the film in an intriguing historical limbo, where the film’s seductively dated form and aesthetic facilitate a discourse that has been ongoing since the Philippines was freed from its colonizers. Where Independencia relied heavily on its distinct look and feel to carry its message, Now Showing (2008), a very personal ode on childhood and a very personal lament on its repercussions that echoes for the duration of a lifetime, takes its time to ripen the melancholy, to bloom the joy, to fathom the banality in growing up.

If there is any Filipino filmmaker however whose films seem to represent adjuncts of his personality, it would be John Torres. Torres has been making short films for several years now. Yet, his humble personality and his private demeanor has kept this filmmaker and his remarkable films, most of which respond like coded diary entries, guarded and known only to a very few. His first feature, Todo Todo Teros (2006), came as a shock. The film, a collection of found footage stringed together to document jealousy and infidelity, which to Torres, equates to terrorism, has the ingenuity of Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare, 1977) and the subtle-turned-palpable emotionality of Bakit Dilaw ang Gitna ng Bahaghari? (Why is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow?, 1995). His latest, Refrain Happens Like Revolutions in a Song (2009) continues to baffle critics with its playful treatment of cinematic conventions without sacrificing what turns Torres’ very personal films so undeniably understandable even to the random filmgoer: the sincerest of emotions.

Paalam Aking Bulalakaw (Goodbye My Shooting Star, 2006), Khavn dela Cruz’s lyric to romantic what-could-have-been’s, showcases the filmmakers bevy of aptitudes in one package. Part record of a promising date with the perfect woman, part album of self-penned and self-performed love songs, part collection of self-penned poems, Bulalakaw has Dela Cruz baring his heart to the world. There is nothing left to do but get swayed by the unabashed sentimentality onscreen. His Maynila sa mga Pangil ng Dilim (Manila in the Fangs of Darkness, 2009), on the other hand, has message, other than the celebration of the finest works of Lino Brocka and the inimitable acting prowess of Bembol Roco, one of Brocka’s favorite actors, that needs to be relayed. The blurred and butchered scenes from Brocka’s films mixed with the high definition footage of De La Cruz seems to make a statement regarding the deplorable state of the Philippines’ film archives, which is losing year by year films because of decay and neglect.

Lav Diaz’s eleven-hour epic Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), made in the span of ten years because of budgetary and logistical constraints and also probably because the film required that much pain, waiting and struggle to be created, is an unparalleled immersive experience. The film details the intertwining histories of two peasant families struggling under the auspices of an abusive Marcos dictatorship. Melancholia (2008), true to its title, details the story of the saddest people in the world. Sadness, however, much more than a mere emotion that has become synonymous to sighs and tears, is depicted in its most extreme sense, from its cause, the disappearance of loved ones without the benefit of the closure of death, to its effect, a total change in character in the hopes that the disguise will eliminate memories of pain. These are Diaz’s most politically-charged films, which is saying a lot, considering that Diaz, from his first feature Serafin Geronimo, Kriminal ng Baryo Conecpcion (The Criminal of Barrio Concepcion, 1998) to his latest, Walang Alaala ang mga Paru-paro (Butterflies Have No Memories, 2009), are very vocal pieces on the ills of a society rendered cancerous by a lack or excess of government.

Diaz started his career under Mother Lily’s Regal Films where he made four of his early feature films. During the course of working under Regal Films, he is rumored to having several shouting matches with Mother Lily because Diaz wanted more independence while Mother Lily wanted more control. In the eyes of the world, Diaz seems to be winning, considering that his films have been regarded with much acclaim. Unfortunately, the truth cannot be said in the Philippines, where Mother Lily, whose redundant romances, pointless comedies, ineffective horrors, and undercooked dramas are being watched by majority of the Philippines despite the repetitive clamor for new content, is still in business, still churning out films that seem to get worse and worse every year. As it seems, this so-called independent spirit, championed by Mendoza, Alix, Martin, Torres, De La Cruz and Diaz and several other Filipino filmmakers, is an allergen to the moneyed capitalist investors, whose idea of culture-building is to dumb down filmgoers for the purposes of competing with Hollywood and increasing profit.

What I am lamenting about is not the fact that these films are not box office hits but that these films hardly matter given the statistic of Filipinos who have had the opportunity to watch them. This is the prolonged sorrow of Filipino cinema; that no matter how many words have been written proclaiming the qualities of these films, no matter how many awards and retrospectives have been given to these filmmakers, no matter how many labels are made for the collective movement of independently-made films, no matter how many passionate arguments about these films as indispensible adjuncts of Filipino culture are made, the Filipino will never give back to its cinema what its cinema has given to it.

Despite that, I shout and will continue shouting “Long Live Philippine Cinema!

Sadly, all I can hear back is silence.

(This article was commissioned for the programme of the Showcase of Philippine Cinema, which is currently happening in Sao Paolo from June 9 to June 27, Rio de Janeiro from June 29 to July 15, and Brasilia from July 13 to August 1. The article may be read in Portuguese in the Showcase's website, along with Noel Vera and Alexis Tioseco's articles, and Khavn de la Cruz's poem.)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Summer Hours (2008)

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas, 2008)
French Title: L'heure d'été

Olivier Assayas' delicately magnificent Summer Hours is bookended by two gatherings in a rustic summer house that is located a few hours from Paris. The film opens with children hunting for treasure. The children, offspring of siblings who have been separated by a rapidly globalizing culture and are only reunited during important family events like birthdays or funerals, run and play around the house, apparently oblivious of the intricacies of what’s going on with the adults. It is the 75th birthday of Hélène (Edith Scob), the family’s matriarch and safe-keeper of the estate of her late uncle, a famous painter who has amassed a collection of valuable art pieces. The celebration, seemingly warm and sun-drenched like the summer house, is more than meets the eye. The family reunion, beneath the token gift-giving and the heartfelt well-wishes, is a precursor to Assayas’ astute discourse on mortality and immortality, as exemplified by life and its limits, and the things, both tangible and intangible, that humanity leaves behind.

Hélène dies. Her children, Frédéric (Charles Berling), an economist living in Paris, Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), an art designer working in New York, and Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), a factory manager residing in China, have been left with the decision of what to do with the house and the treasures therein. The dilemma is seemingly straightforward: Frédéric wants to preserve the estate for gatherings in the future and for their children, while Jérémie and Adrienne, who foretell their inevitable disconnect with France given their jobs abroad, opt to sell everything. As the pieces are sold and hauled away from the house, values are revealed and sentimental attachments are disclosed. Assayas, who fascinatingly documents the goings-on with astounding near-objectivity and hardly any emotional attachment in display, crafts a resounding elegy of legacy as opposed to estate, the former being objects inherently co-existing with memories formed with them and the latter being objects appreciated only for their utilitarian value.

Summer Hours, while fundamentally a family drama that tackles the most intimate of familial interactions, reaches further to comment on the current world of globalized culture where factories in China, ran by a French expatriate, are manufacturing Puma shoes to be sold in the United States, or design houses in New York are conceptualizing vases to be sold in Japan, or an unpaid mortgage by Californian blue-collar worker triggers a global financial crisis. Globalization has seeped into what is believed to be the proudest of cultures; as the staple American influence, from the preference of wearing a pair of Converse sneakers instead of China-made Pumas to having your children be educated in the English language, have found themselves not only in the extremities of familial reunions but in the utmost core of decisions. The Berthiers, coming from a line of cultural workers with the great grand uncle being a famous painter, have succumbed to the globalization malady.

Further manifested through showings of how cheapened culture is being turned into via its commodification through auction houses and other institutions whose capitalist intentions simplify culture to maximize financial worth and nothing more, Assayas’ subtle lament becomes more meaningful. In the guise of democratizing appreciation for what is advertised as cultural or artistic heritage, placing the Coron and Redon paintings, the Majorelle and Hoffman furniture, and the Bracquemond and D’Auteuil vases in museums for everyone’s limited and momentary pleasure, the meaning and essence of these objects dissipate as they are relegated the sole function of time capsules to everyone, from the previous owner who acknowledges these pieces as soulless outside the summer house that housed the memories that they keep to the random passerby whose appreciation for the object is limited to what is written in the label or what is mentioned by the paid lecturer.

By communicating conflict through minute gestures instead of grand emotional displays, Assayas has created a film so elegant and graceful it seems to belong in another era. Conflicts are enlarged not by what is visible and immediately felt, but by what are merely suggested: Hélène’s monologue, which caps her 75th birthday, fades out to after her death several months after the reunion; the housemaid who parts with the summer house from the outside looking in; the long conversations between the siblings which end with Frédéric crying alone in the dark. Civility has never been this tenuously depicted, as if a sudden burst of violent disagreement would function to sever ties forever. Outbursts are quick and apologies, even quicker. Aches, experiences and reminiscences do not make opulent appearances. They only function as defining moods and nuances, sources of understandings and misunderstandings, the very thing, fragile and incorporeal as they are, that keeps the family a family.

Ultimately, Summer Hours feels like a swansong to an era that was and is still beautiful but is being rendered obsolete by a world that is so fascinated by materialism. Yet, survival dictates that humanity move on and adapt. The film ends in the same house where the children of Frédéric are throwing a party before the sale papers are signed and the summer house transfers ownership. This is the torch being given to the next generation, where the opening’s gathering is pastoral in its simplicity and gracefulness, the ending’s gathering is rowdy and noisy. Assayas seems to suggest an ominous future where the next generation are nothing more than uncouth, uncultured, and unappreciative lots. However, Assayas slows down and allows a glimpse of the next generation, a glimpse that the entire movie seems to have neglected in giving. Frédéric’s daughter, in a surprising sincere expression of somber regret, tells her boyfriend of what her grandmother has told her and the value of the house to her. Promises were broken. Objects fade. Memories remain. Memories are all that we share.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Noy (2010)

Noy (Dondon Santos, 2010)

The biggest and most fatal problem of Dondon Santos' Noy is that it was never allowed to grow its own set of balls. The film is basically a product of favors: from then-presidential candidate and now-president apparent Noynoy Aquino, his family, and his campaign team, who allowed Santos and his crew the opportunity to shoot the presidential campaign from the inside. As such, it never fully acquires a voice. It relays its message, or whatever sort of motherhood generality it tries to impart, through minuscule peeps and squeaks. It is what it is, and no matter how it musters every conceit in cinema like mixing documentary footage with overt melodrama, it remains to be at most, a limp and flaccid political statement if not an absolutely impotent failure.

Noy (Coco Martin) is an ambitious yet unqualified young man who by submitting a fake diploma and a demo reel he bribed one of his friends to make, got the assignment of documenting the presidential campaign of Aquino. Fueled by the desire to make ends meet for his family, composed of his mother (Cherry Pie Picache), a manicurist who caught the fancy of a transient American, his elder brother (Joem Bascon), whose legs have been rendered useless by a previous accident, and his younger sister, an able student who is unknowingly going blind because of an undetected diabetes, he at first does his job with the mechanicality of an unaffected employee, before events at home start to compound for him to treat his subject with the zeal that it suggestively deserves.

The trials of Noy’s family, from the younger sister’s inevitable blindness to the older brother’s entanglements with drug dealers, are predictable consequences of narrative conceits. They are hardly reflections of the social malaise that is troubling the nation. At most, they are didactic inclusions whose only real value is to elementarily graze upon issues that have existed and have been eternally discussed and debated in other venues and forms of media. As for their dramatic value, it is perfunctory at best, made effective more by the deft performances of the actors than their supposed truthfulness. Noy endeavors to mirror the plight of the poor, showcasing a household tormented by the floods caused by a recent typhoon and the maladies that frequent the downtrodden, yet all it really achieves is to shallowly tell a story made ridiculous by the convoluted twists and turns, which are better suited in an afternoon soap, that are forcibly squeezed into the feature.

The footage of Aquino’s campaign, integrated into the film via Noy’s work-in-progress documentary, is nothing more than ornamental. Shot using murky and jerk digital format as opposed to the rest of the film’s elegant film cinematography, most probably to emulate the immersive quality of Brillante Mendoza’s filmmaking, the footage is at its best, like when Aquino’s discussion on the state of Cebu’s power was serendipitously interrupted by a short brown-out and he bounces back with a witty retort, revelatory of some of Aquino’s endearing traits. Mostly however, the footage is no different from the thousands of footage that were aired in each and every news channel during campaign season: crowds, motorcades, politicians making promises, celebrities endorsing; with only one difference, Martin, disguised as a journalist, is there. There could be something to say about fact, in the form of Aquino’s campaign, and fiction, in the form of the character of Noy interacting with Aquino and his team, interacting seamlessly in the documentary footage, but as it is, everything feels put-on and cosmetic at best.

Thus, Noy is nothing more than a disposable drama that disguises itself with the most current of political flavors to achieve only a semblance of relevance. It tries to walk the talk, juxtaposing a grandly operatic tragedy with the insistent promises of change of Aquino’s presidential campaign, but it only succeeds in talking more talk, throwing around mere suggestions of the grey areas of Aquino’s campaign without actually creating any pertinent discourse about anything. Gone were the days of Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (Bayan Ko: My Own Country, 1985) or Orapronobis (Fight for Us, 1989), whose political agendas are brandished with both the skill and directness that are required to inflict a measure of change, even if it is just momentarily. In comparison, Noy feels like a buss in the cheek, given only if the cheek’s owner is courteous enough to give a buss back.

(Cross-published on Twitch)