Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rakenrol (2011)

Rakenrol (Quark Henares, 2011)

Rakenrol is a lot of firsts for its director, Quark Henares. It is his first feature film to be produced and directed independent of any major studio backing. It is his feature first film to be completely free from any genre limitations. It is also his first feature film after the untimely death of his most loyal supporter and most honest critic, Alexis Tioseco, to which he dedicates the film as a partial fulfilment to one of Tioseco’s famous wishes for Philippine Cinema.

Gamitan (2002), produced by Viva, was clearly bankrolled to maximize the very popular sex appeal of Maui Taylor, who pumped fresh blood and class to the waning genre of titillating films that dominated Philippine cinema in the last few years of the last century and the first few years of the new millennium. Keka (2003), also produced by Viva in an effort to launch the career of Katya Santos, another one of its up and coming sexy actresses, is a revenge film, in the same vein as Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (1973) and Lino Brocka’s Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One, 1980). Wag Kang Lilingon (Don't Look Back, 2006), a horror film which Henares co-directed with Jerry Lopez Sineneng, is co-produced by Viva with Star Cinema. Super Noypi (2006), produced by Regal Films for the Metro Manila Film Festival, is a mash-up of sci-fi and superhero elements to unwieldy results.

Rakenrol evidently has all the heart a filmmaker can ever give his film, with storylines that are partly or wholly based on actual events and cameos of Henares’ friends and heroes. Henares has clearly taken independence seriously, showering his film with the little things that made his previous films work beyond their respective genres. It overflows with so much heart, its humor and unsubtle odes to whoever and whatever may tend to be alienating. Absent of any real genre, of an actual framework to work with, of self-control, the film doesn’t really have a story to stand on, just a flimsy tale of idealistic youngsters wanting to form a rock band called Hapipaks and in the process of doing so, form life-long friendships and romantic links with each other

It could have worked better if the flimsy tale were driven by real characters instead of just stereotypes and mockeries. It also does not help that the entire film rests upon the shoulders of Jason Abalos, who is unable to turn the character of Odie, the soft-spoken lead guitarist of Hapipaks, into anything more than the typical boy-next-door who happens to have a guitar on his hands. That Glaiza de Castro, who manages to inject Irene, the swoony Hapipaks lead singer with palpable sincerity amidst the film’s unabashed caricature of everything.

Ketchup Eusebio and Alwyn Uytingco, who play the other Hapipaks bandmembers, valiantly make most of their underdeveloped and over-typecasted characters. Ramon Bautista, who plays the self-absorbed director of the Hapipaks music video, Jun Sabayton, who plays misunderstood avant-garde artist, and Diether Ocampo, who plays Odie’s cocky rival to Irene’s heart, are more comedic acts than actual characters you care to love or hate. The film is unfortunately filled to the brim with characters, including the famous Ely Buendia who is reduced to play an inspirational deus ex machina, who serve no real purpose other than as arguably unsuccessful attempts at irreverence or just clutter.

Logic and the advertised promises of working with full independence dictate that outside the fences forced by his collaborations with commercial film studios, Henares would be able to create a masterpiece, or at the very least, a very good very personal film. Unfortunately, Rakenrol is hardly a masterpiece. Although it is indeed a very personal work, it feels more than a little bit scattered, with the story never evolving to be either the quintessential movie about the Philippine rock scene or to be one truly charming romance. With the way it seems to slide out of more interesting conflicts with humor and satire, the film seems to delight in its manufactured weightlessness, never really achieving anything except perhaps for personal nostalgia, and needless tons of it.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Elehiya sa Dumalaw Mula sa Himagsikan (2011)

Elehiya sa Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan (Lav Diaz, 2011)
English Title: Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution

Originally planned as a one minute short for Nikalexis.MOV, a program of short films dedicated to the memory of slain critics Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc that featured short works by directors like Raymond Red, Rico Maria Ilarde and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz’s Elehiya sa Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan (Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution) grew both in length and concept, turning into a film that is ponderous and perplexing but is still grounded on very familiar emotions of melancholy and despair. It is undoubtedly a film that sprung from spontaneity, with Diaz literally writing the film as he was shooting it with a cast of actors and friends who are willing and ready to take in complex roles in a very short period of time.

Walang Alaala ang mga Paru-paro (Butterflies have no Memories, 2009), Diaz’s one-hour meditation on the moral and environmental changes in an abandoned mining town in the island of Marinduque, is evident in its struggle to communicate the spare and pained aesthetics that Diaz is most famous for within an hour. As a result, the film feels unduly hurried, rushing to arrive at its beautiful conclusion. On the other hand, Elehiya sa Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan, despite clocking at only one hour and twenty minutes, is deliberately structured and less beholden to its narrative. The film is told in three parts, with each part pertaining to each of the three visits of the time-travelling visitor from when the country was fighting for independence from Spain.

The three parts are themselves divided into seemingly incongruent storylines. A prostitute (Sigrid Bernardo) patiently waits for a customer. A musician (Diaz) plays various melodies for nobody. Three petty criminals (Dante Perez, Evelyn Vargas, and Joel Ferrer) are preparing for a heist. A woman (Hazel Orencio) from the country’s past suddenly appears in a busy marketplace, venturing then to fountains, rivers and other watery places. The storylines eventually converge, revealing characters whose lives are consumed by desperation, forcing them to venture into territories that compromise relationships and whatever remains of their fractured humanity.

Clearly, the prostitute and the petty criminals, with their botched attempt to drift out of their sorry lots, are only victims of a country that has sadly devolved from what it was originally intended to be by the revolutionaries who risked lives for freedom. Diaz does not create characters that are evil by nature. Like the trio of kidnappers of Walang Alaala ang mga Paru-paro, the ox-cart driver of Heremias (2006), or the displaced farmer and miner of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), his characters are drawn to extreme actions naturally by an evil society, corrupted by systems that have remained unchanged or adopted through several years of abject complacency or lack of identity.

In one of the rare close-ups in Diaz’s entire filmography, the visitor from the past directly looks at the audience, her face aching with heavy emotions of regret and sadness, the same regret and sadness that pervades the musician’s solitary strumming. It is a hauntingly beautiful dream sequence, unsettling in the way it directly confronts with images bursting with the most wistful of emotions. Dreams are said to be products of unprocessed memories. The dream in Diaz’s film seems to be the product of a nation’s unprocessed memories, burdened with a decades’ worth of tireless but unmerited struggles.

Elehiya sa Dumalaw mula sa Himagsikan is clearly Diaz’s lament to what the country and its citizens have become. More importantly, it is also his ode to those who continue with the revolution, notwithstanding their songs being unheard, their images being unseen, and their impassioned calls being unfelt. It is everything Diaz stands for. It is everything Tioseco stood and wished for.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

When Silver is Better than Gold: Silvershorts

When Silver is Better than Gold: Silvershorts

Once every few years, silver is worth more than gold. From the hundreds of short films, ranging from powerful advocacies to mystifying experimentals, ten films were chosen to represent the best of digital short filmmaking this side of the world.

Alvin Yapan’s Panibugho (Jealousy) is a parable that is inspired by a quotation on jealousy and envy from Jose Rizal’s famous first novel. Shot and designed like a moving painting with otherworldly colors melting into rural landscapes, the short film weaves the unreality of local folklore and the reality of the human condition into one of the most astounding cinematic adaptation of a Rizal text. Gym Lumbera’s Dahil Sa’yo (Because of You), on the other hand, situates its melancholic romance between an old man and a banana tree set in the director’s native Batangas. Lyrically shot, sparingly paced, and thematically succinct, the short film makes use of very relatable human emotions as expressed through the popular ballad sung by the old man to his beloved tree to depict the despair in humanity’s relationship with his environment.

Timmy Harn’s Panty is at first glance, just a joke, admittedly a very funny one. At second glance, when the joke’s effect has worn off, the film readily reveals itself as an astute observation of gender roles within a marriage in an age of empowered women and lazy men. Jet Leyco’s Patlang (Blank) starts seemingly as a run-of-the-mill melodrama, covering what possibly is a young girl’s heartbreak. From there, it jumps into a wormhole, transporting the narrative to different places. The short film’s both an exercise of style and rhythm and a mystifying document of the personal and the political converging in the most intriguing of ways.

Jon Lazam’s Hindi Sa Atin Ang Buwan (The Moon is Not Ours) is even more mystifying than Patlang. Shot with a consumer-level video camera over a holiday in Bohol, the film is completely without sound and in black and white. It is mostly footage of travel, chaotic and rapid at first before settling into a more relaxed pace, relaying the feelings of distance, resignation and sadness through sheer imagery. Sharing its adoration for elusiveness with Lazam’s silent short, JP Carpio’s Coverage seems to be more experiment than anything. A multi-cam set-up, a couple preparing and eating breakfast, and an indecipherable rationale, the short film is a puzzle that is more alluring to behold than to solve.

Richmond Garcia’s Numbalikdiwa, a thesis film from the University of the Philippines, attempts to paint the pains of a writer in the process of creating his story. As his imagination literally forms into characters that move, communicate, and hurt him, he learns of the sacrifices of his craft. Also a thesis film, Chuck Hipol’s Man of the House opens with a portrait of a perfect family, the type that only exists in television advertisements. Slowly but surely, it unfolds to reveal a reality that seems to be more normal than strange in a society that fantasizes about perfect families.

The two short documentaries in the program both tackle artists. Mark Mirabuenos Gupit (Cut) centers on a barber gifted with a golden voice. It is a film that charms because the subject is charming, all too willing to belt out a pop classic while parading his skills with the scissors and telling his all-too-familiar story of his very modest life. Cierlito Tabay and Moreno Benigno’s Undo tackles a very unique individual, a very talented painter whose very fuel for his art are the drugs that would inevitably lead to his death. If Mirabuenos’ barber sings to enchant his customers, Tabay and Benigno’s painter sings to express the burdens of his overextended life.

Ten brave short films, all different in their methods, but all similar in their goal to maximize the medium of digital filmmaking in relaying truths, expressing emotions, and forwarding the form of cinema.

(Cross-published in Lagarista.)