Monday, December 31, 2012

Sinapupunan (2012)

Sinapupunan (Brillante Mendoza, 2012)
International Title: Thy Womb

Sinapupunan (Thy Womb) opens with a woman giving birth. Shaleha (Nora Aunor), a midwife, accompanied by her husband Bangas-an (Bembol Roco), assists the soon-to-be-mother in delivering her child. Shaleha then routinely requests for the baby’s umbilical cord. She brings the keepsake from the afternoon home, hangs it alongside all the other cords she has collected from the many mothers she helped. The hanging cords in her home are ostensibly a record of her noble profession. Ironically, it also serves as a painful reminder of the one nagging imperfection of her marriage with her husband, which is her inability to bear children for him. Nature has fated her with infertility. However, her culture has given her the opportunity to remedy it. By finding another suitable wife for her husband, she is able to fulfil what for her is the most essential of her familial duties.

Mendoza strips the film of most external conflicts, concentrating instead on the nuances of infertile Shaleha’s relationship with her husband as she sets out to find a second wife for her husband to bear a child for him. Set in Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines’ southernmost isles which have become infamous for being torn by warring government and Muslim secessionist forces, the film valiantly avoids sensationalizing war and instead delves into the human condition of a people who have grown accustomed to military presence. At one point, a wedding dance is abruptly stalled by violence. When the shock and confusion dissipates, the dance continues, almost as if nothing happened. Mendoza has effectively created a believable world wherein military conflict has weaved itself into the culture by sheer familiarity.

Sinapupunan indulges in its depiction both nature and culture. Mendoza does not hide his fascination, relentlessly breaking his storytelling to make way for gorgeous images of endless seascapes and colorful tradition. He takes time revelling at whale sharks under the sea, or turtles’ eggs hidden dearly beneath Tawi-Tawi’s remote beaches. He stages elaborate Muslim ceremonies and rituals. Surprisingly, the film never feels as if it is treading too closely to exoticizing its subject locale. The overt visualization of both nature and culture seems essential to Mendoza’s goals of exploring the interactions of culture and nature and the people who rely heavily on them for both sustenance and identity.

Henry Burgos’ screenplay is admirably spare. It is unafraid of being judged not by the lyricism of the words spoken by the depicted ordinary folk, but by the measured silence. It allows the couple’s relationship to simmer, to take root, to emotionally attach to the peering audience, before exposing the fissures that will unavoidably grow bigger. It masterfully orchestrates heartbreak, without any hint of artifice or machination. It gives Mendoza enough breathing room to scrutinize the world, which he does so without hardly any hesitation.

Aunor, who has been absent from Philippine cinema for several years despite being renowned as one of its living acting treasures, is the film’s beating heart. Her dutiful portrayal of Shaleha is both spontaneous and intelligent. She cleverly interacts with her surroundings, not as an actress inhabiting a role but as a human being naturally reacting to very real scenarios. When the film requires silence, she makes use of her eyes, which seamlessly hypnotize the audience to believe her character’s plight and sacrifice.

Sinapupunan is observably quainter, tamer, and more mannered than Mendoza’s previous works. However, it still resonates with the same removed yet still potent anger that only an artist who wants to depict truth from a distance can evoke. The film ends with more questions than answers, as it has to. The story, which is essentially the film’s element that begs for a proper ending, is but a tool for Mendoza to frame the grand ironies that afflict humanity. When Shaleha asks for that final umbilical cord, she has finally severed the tie that has severely burdened her. We can only cry because we are also human.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Melodrama Negra (2012)

Melodrama Negra (Maribel Legarda, 2012)

Like Loy Arcenas, Maribel Legarda has several years’ worth of theater experience to guide her first foray into filmmaking. Unlike Arcenas, whose first film is from an original screenplay by Rody Vera, Legarda chose to adapt for the screen an award-winning stageplay by Allan Lopez. Interestingly, Nino, Arcenas’ first film embraces theatricality, limiting most of its moments within the striking dialogues spewed by the characters with such exaggerated extravagance. Legarda’s Melodrama Negra, on the other hand, abandons theatricality in favor of gloss, spectacle and other cinematic excesses. Remnants of the material and Legarda’s stage roots linger, creating an uneasy mix of both theatrical and cinematic excesses.

Melodrama Negra opens with three wandering ghosts (Gee Canlas, Gerald Napoles and Bong Cabrera), wondering what they need to do to move on. Through flashbacks, their respective lives, all of which are typical sob stories designed primarily to grant humanity to those who are no longer human, are revealed. Their deaths are conveniently connected to the individual stories of the film’s living characters: an good-hearted thug (Gerhard Acao) who falls for a prostitute (Sheng Belmonte), a group of high school sociopaths (Nicco Manalo, Cindy Garcia, Ria Garcia) who stage the kidnapping of a congressman’s son and his girlfriend, and their respective respectable parents who have hidden monstrosities. Legarda fervently weaves the stories together, crafting a light-hearted and mostly cinematic take on the innate darkness of humanity.

Eskrimadors-director Kerwin Go turns cinematographer here, giving the material a palatable-enough look, appropriating for the material just enough polish to drown the bleakness. Myke Salomon’s musical score gives the picture a likable upbeat feel. Overall, Melodrama Negra has the tone of a genuine crowd-pleaser. Its humor is amiable. Its drama is relatively efficient.

Legarda is clearly in the business of entertaining. However, it is that eagerness to entertain that bars the film from being nothing more than a well-crafted offbeat caper. The film’s morbid impressions are nothing more than embellishments that serve the purpose of satisfying a curiosity or the need to be different. Its descent to the darkness of men feels false, unable to linger beyond the four corners of the darkened theater.

Melodrama Negra stands out when it doesn’t overreach, when it remains grounded, exploring emotions and relationships that are elementarily human. It leaps when it bares the grief of a drag queen who laments his foster son’s death through an impromptu ballad sung among friends. It flies when it exposes a sister’s concern for her younger sister who is traumatized by their sexually abusive father. It radiates when it tells the blossoming romance between a misunderstood bodyguard and his master’s favorite hooker. Unfortunately, these very human scenes are but half of the experience. The rest is enveloped in tolerable but ultimately forgettable artifice, the same artifice that can only work on stage, where the props, the acting, the lighting, and the sets are as large and as loud as the convolutions of Lopez’s theater-bound material.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Philippine Film Awards, in a Rotten Nutshell

Philippine Film Awards, in a Rotten Nutshell
by Francis Joseph A. Cruz

It is quite strange that for a country whose movie industry is reportedly dying, the number of film award-giving bodies is actually growing. During the 50’s, which is considered by many as the first Golden Age of the Philippine film because of the number of films that were being produced, there was only one award that film producers were aspiring for. That was the FAMAS Award, a statue fashioned after the then immaculate figure of Rosa Rosal. Unknown to many, the FAMAS, which now populates many conversations as an idiom for anybody’s ability to cry buckets at will (“pang-FAMAS ang acting”), was actually the product of the Maria Clara Awards, then the sole award-giving body in the country, being criticized for being irrelevant, being given out only by film writers and not artisans. Even back then in the golden years, back when film was film and directors and other filmmakers were actually well-fed and well-known, there were already power struggles in the award-giving business.

Fast-forward to what is now being brashly considered as the third Golden Age of the Philippine film because of the proliferation of indies that now populate many international film festivals, FAMAS is now a mere shadow of its former glory. Other award-giving bodies have taken its place, grabbed its prestige, and shared in its controversies. FAMAS has been ridden with intrigues, beginning with the untimely revocation of its corporate papers by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which caused confusion and uncertainty in its leadership and more importantly, in the yearly ceremony.

The yearly ceremony is of immense importance for these award-giving bodies. The ceremony is their cash cow, their claim to fame, their members’ grand opportunity to hobnob with the stars. How else would they lure papaya and placenta soap companies to pay thousands of pesos to sponsor ridiculous awards whose only criterion is attendance? How else would they land a spot and perhaps a glittery black and white photo in the broadsheets and TV Patrol’s showbiz corner? How else can they claim relevance?

The Film Academy of the Philippines, an organization tasked by an actual executive order to be the umbrella organization for the various film guilds, gets into the mix with their own awards, the Luna. The Luna is of course the official counterpart of the United States’ Oscars. However, unlike the Oscars which seems to welcome and award films and filmmakers outside its sphere of influence, the Luna is predominantly an industry affair, oblivious to the achievements of the indies who are swimming in the margins of the moneymaking industry. Nominations to indie films are rare. Actual awards to indie films seem non-existent, limited to those with mainstream backing.

The Luna’s alter-ego is the Urian. If the Luna shuns independent filmmakers because they have no clout with the guilds, the Urian seems to live in an imaginary world where only indies are shown in the malls. Mainstream films are hardly ever nominated, even for the awards covering technical craftsmanship, which is admittedly the Achilles’ Heel of the indies, as professed by many write-ups circulating in the net. The Urian, however, is really a private affair and their decisions are reflective not of the pulse of the masses but of the individual politics and taste of the members. A quick look at any year’s roster of nominations would reveal surprises that would raise accusations of lack of taste and abundance of liberties. Perhaps the most glaring of the accusations would be that the members of the Manunuri have become so out of touch of what is current, they no longer watch films in the theaters and only wait for screeners to reach their lap. Despite the accusations, the Urian remains to be the country’s most believable awards. Whether or not they are now only riding on the prestige of what was a very glorious past is really another question.

The Young Critics’ Circle, the younger (although not-so-young, really) counterpart of the Manunuri, revels in the boldness of their choices. They limit their pickings to a very few films and they give out their awards to what seems to be the most obscure nominee. It is all good, considering the fact that the most satisfying role of critics is not to tell the people what should be watched but to champion a criminally ignored gem. However, very little is written and read. The awards given out by the critics’ groups are lazy counterparts to actual writing. Instead of coming out with an article explaining the merits of a little-seen film, everything is summed up in two insignificant words: Best Picture.

Then there are the awards given out by the press, the Star Awards and the Golden Screen Awards, again, a break-away group. The Star Awards gives a separate prize for indies, in their effort to bring awareness to the marginalized film sector. However, the name of those awards (Best Movie of the Year, Digital Movie Director of the Year, etc.) only exposes their cluelessness about filmmaking. Interestingly, they also have the most categories, probably in an effort to please and brush the egos of the most number of moneyed film producers, performers, and craftsmen. The awards only confirm that the press commits to what it does best: to gravitate towards the glitz and glamour and be satisfied as subservient stooges of the industry.

Just last year, the Philippines produced a number of Best Pictures. The Urian crowned Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (Dance of Two Left Feet). The YCC lauded Adolfo Alix, Jr.’s Haruo. The Golden Screens were given to Marlon Rivera’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank) and Loy Arcenas’ Nino. The Star Awards, The FAMAS, the Luna, and the Star Awards were unanimous in awarding Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story. The Star Awards Digital Movie of the Year is Paul Soriano’s Thelma. It has become sordidly confusing, really.

In Antoinette Jadaone’s Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (which got nominated by the Urian), Peque Gallaga summarized the practical value of these awards, given the fact that they raise the artists’ value and gives them a little bit more attention, comfort and pay. However, with the various ulterior motives of the award-giving bodies themselves, and the controversies, and the accusations, the criticisms, the surprises and snobs, do these awards still matter: to the producers and employers, who are struggling to make money in a market that is fascinated with Hollywood? To the public, who are more interested who won Star of the Night, or most most-dressed, or best smile? To the historians, who will eventually think there’s just too many of these awards for them to make a dent in the timeline of Philippine cinema? There are just too many question to answer, so I suggest, we just sit back, relax, and enjoy the circus show.

(First published in Supreme, Philippine Star as "The seedy underworld of award-giving bodies," 15 September 2012.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Slumber Party (2012)

Slumber Party (Emmanuel dela Cruz, 2012)

Emmanuel dela Cruz’s Slumber Party is a film of undeniable charms. It revels in color. It delights in diversity. It sustains with mainstreamed queer wit, the type that makes use of self-referential humor for much of the laughter earned. The brand of comedy is of course a staple in the Philippines, where there is an abundance of gay entertainers who mine their experiences with intolerance for everybody’s humor. Fortunately, Slumber Party does not limit itself to the stereotypical inanity of its more commercial kin. It attempts to offer the mainstream it seduces with its approachable wit and comedy a slice of homosexual reality in the country.

Perhaps Dela Cruz’s most masterful stroke here is to cast popular straight actors as his film’s tri-beki, the trio of gay friends who find themselves both captors and guardians of a fraternity initiate they caught invading into their yearly Miss Universe vigil. Trusting first, his ability to mold his actors (commercial model RK Bagatsing, singer Markki Stroem, and comedian Archie Alemania) into homosexuals with nary a hint of falseness, and second, his actors’ untested capability to melt into the written characters, Dela Cruz adds a cinematic sheen to the exercise instead of relying on overused realism. He infuses a certain feeling that everything, despite the excellent performance of his cast, all a play, a deliberately engineered romp, a piece of entertainment.

The script, written by dela Cruz alongside gay rights advocates Philippe Salvador Palmos and Troy Espiritu, is a patchwork of inspired ideas and convenient contrivances. It struggles to make every light-hearted moment deep and relevant, pumping each hilarious scene with heavy-handed revelations involving nearly every current queer dilemma and issue. However, the film works best when its celebration is unburdened. There is enough humanity in the characters’ interactions with each other to excuse it from the need to spell out its intentions in a needlessly clear and obvious manner. In turn, Slumber Party becomes overlong, chatty, and bewilderingly redundant.

The very danger of straying from mere entertainment into the territory of advocacy is that every skit, every joke, and every plot point become more open to scrutiny. A film that begs for acceptance cannot take lightly affairs and experiences that are obnoxious as they are and can only be deemed acceptable given more sober and solemn circumstances. The story of Slumber Party already takes many liberties with mainstream sensitivities, given the fact that it essentially revolves around a straight man being denied his freedom by likable homosexuals who are written to commit dastardly deeds draped as comedy.

Dela Cruz and his scribes’ most glaring misstep is to turn an act of sexual assault against the captured straight man into a boisterous act of hilarity that becomes completely forgotten in pursuit of the film’s lofty objectives. Whatever charms and understanding earned are eventually betrayed by a scene that uncomfortably feels very wrong, most especially since its wrongness can easily be glossed over because it is staged for laughs. Slumber Party is a pleasure for the forgiving. It is disconcerting for the rest. It earns as much as it conveniently wastes away.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taglish (2012)

Taglish (Gym Lumbera, 2012)

In response to a query as to when he felt his feature film was already finished, director Gym Lumbera replied with a statement of disarming practicality. Floodwaters have damaged the prints of Tagalog, prompting Lumbera to use them as the first part of Taglish. It is a physically excruciating watch. Eye-straining stains, scratches and shapes, caused by the untimely deterioration, turn the black and white images into odd shadows of their former forms.

At times, the eerie transformation of the images are enthralling, like when the face of an old man break and melt, turning what was once a comforting visual into something nightmarishly foreign. There is a discomforting absence of sound, further alienating the audience, accomplishing Lumbera’s goals of portraying his distrust with the rapid mutations of his mother tongue and his very own separation from the familiarity of rural life in a cinematic style that is completely his own.

The destroyed prints finally give way to the original film, Tagalog, a hypnotic elegy to provincial life which is a few minutes shy of an hour. Played by Lumbera’s own grandparents, the film’s central figures form part of the landscape of the rural world Lumbera concocts from memory. Except for its suggestions of infidelity, there is hardly a story here. Narrative is of course hardly important. By the very fact that it audaciously opens to a torturous sequence of destroyed film, Taglish does not aim to be pleasurable, at least within the standards of traditional cinema. The seemingly disparate images are linked by Lumbera by instinct, by a primal emotion, perhaps a longing for a distant past, for a quiet land where hurrying is a sin, for those whose photographs populate the ancestral home.

The muted colors of forgotten pornographic films abruptly end the run of Lumbera’s monochrome fantasy. The Caucasian characters, all of whom are parading seductively, are a break from the solitary and serene figures that populate Tagalog. The jarring change in aesthetics is hilarious. The unlikely mix of the two parts seems unlikely and sinful. However, Lumbera adventurously engages his native imaginings with borrowed footage whose rhythm, visuals and intentions are so observably contrasting to his. At once, what was previously elegant and elegiac is transformed into something lewd and lascivious. The sequence ends with a man about to reach an orgasm. The coincidental union has produced one bastard of an offspring.

The title of Lumbera’s film refers to the sub-language that intermittently mixes Tagalog and English, a result of Filipinos’ lack of mastery of either language. It reveals the extent of the country’s cultural infidelity, which manifests in the very way its people converse. With Taglish Lumbera creates, borrows, experiments, and allows to be destroyed cinematic ideas and images, all in the service of a discourse of a culture that seems to be all a result of a history of creation, appropriation, experimentation and destruction, a history that trickles down to the personal experiences of the filmmaker who finds himself torn between the hometown he left behind and the city he reluctantly now calls his home.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Palitan (2012)

Palitan (Ato Bautista, 2012)
English Translation: Exchange

Ato Bautista’s Palitan (Exchange) opens with a business transaction. Ramiro (Mon Confiado, who gives a performance that carries the film from start to finish), the shrewd owner of an electronics shop, is convincing a client to buy his surveillance cameras. The client, troubled by his wife’s brazen infidelity, wants to build proof of her cheating. Ramiro then coolly suggests another one of his wares, a pistol, declaring that the only way for a jealous husband is to kill the cause of jealousy. Ramiro is a convincing businessman. He has a distinct way with words, delivering them with the primary objective of making a sale and enjoying the profit. His client, given the freedom of choosing the surveillance camera or the gun, is hooked and ready to let go of his cash for the peace of mind he desires.

Throughout the film, Ramiro is in the process of bartering and bargaining, to convince Nestor (Alex Medina) to give him videos of his wife (Mara Lopez) showering in exchange for the erasure of his debts, or to woo the wife into having sex with him, and later on, loving him back. Nestor is pitiful, a miserable loser who works in Ramiro’s shop to supposedly pay off his debts that only keep increasing. Nestor’s wife, newly plucked from the province and wasting away in a rundown parlor doing pedicures of horny clients, is the ultimate prize for Ramiro. When Ramiro finally wins the wife, through a marvellous display of gab and cunning, he is rewarded with an indulgently long sex scene, enunciating the near-soulless quality of the newly formed relationship. In the end, he begs to be loved by the confused wife. There is still work to be done, a deal to be closed.

Bautista admittedly pegs Peque Gallaga’s Scorpio Nights (1985) as an inspiration for Palitan. He replicates the design of the film, setting his story within the cramped interiors of the electronics shop or Nestor’s unkempt apartment. Unfortunately, the setting of Palitan is unconvincing. Unlike the tenement in Scorpio Nights where the audience is able to physically map out the mechanics of the characters’ strange sexual affairs and establish the spaces that allow for the possibility of the connections, the setting of Palitan feel like convenient stages that only serve the purpose of approximating claustrophobia. While Gallaga painfully recreates a heightened reality, creating a festering and heat-infested environment where it becomes entirely logical for the characters to be trapped in their sexual longings, Bautista seems satisfied with merely the idea of suffocation, utilizing the most minimum of production design to convey the illusion. Palitan feels too clinical and smart, too removed from the rest of the world. The sweat seems manufactured. The violence becomes only a narrative function. The sex becomes too long and repetitive.

Fortunately, Bautista modifies something new to Gallaga’s masterpiece. He intelligently maneuvers the politics of Scorpio Nights, appropriating the role of the voyeur not to the helpless and powerless but to the moneyed and prone to be abusive. While Gallaga’s desperate voyeur, a struggling student renting the apartment directly above the home of his target, steals his sexual thrills, Bautista’s, the slickly abusive Ramiro, buys his. Despite the variation, the differently situated voyeurs become addicted to the women of their fantasies to the point of falling in love, eventually leading to tragic consequences.

Palitan could be seen as exploitative, especially with its overindulgent bed scenes that seem to overpower what essentially is a thin story. However, the exploitation is an overt part of the milieu Bautista attempts to explore. It is a milieu where everything is traded, judged with whatever commercial value they have. In the absence of love and money, even our souls have a tag price.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ang Paglalakbay ng Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (2012)

Ang Paglalakbay ng Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (Arnel Mardoquio, 2012)
English Translation: The Journey of Stars Into the Dark Night

Arnel Mardoquio’s Ang Paglalakbay ng Bituin sa Gabing Madilim is essentially L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz had it been set in present-day Mindanao and draped in reality instead of fantasy. Faidal (Irish Karl Monsanto) is suddenly orphaned when his parents, Muslim freedom fighters who end up becoming bandits involved in kidnapping for ransom, are killed, leaving him with a knapsack full of dollars and a band of American and local troops trailing him. He ends up with his aunt Amrayda (Fe Gingging Hyde) and Fatima (Glorypearl Dy), who decide to aid the orphan in his escape. They end up in the house of Baba Indu (Roger Gonzalez), the family patriarch, who joins them to ensure everybody’s safety in their passage away from their embattled home.

Like Dorothy’s companions, each of the characters in Mardoquio’s remarkably directed film are possessed by their individual needs and motives, which seem to align with Faidal’s quest to escape. The tedium of travel is punctuated with poignant revelations. Their military predators appear deliberately, always accompanied by an otherworldly drone that emphasize the innate violence of their mere presence in the land. Mardoquio could have easily staged rousing chases or intense gunfights. Thankfully, restraint overpowers the need to preach and burst. He tells his story with admirable confidence, showing only what needs to be shown, telling only what needs to be told, and trusting subtlety in its pursuit of accomplishing his advocacy. When he allows his characters to talk lengthily, the burden of their words are always well-earned.

Ang Paglalakbay ng Bituin sa Gabing Madilim is visually arresting. Mardoquio displays his mastery over the spaces of the vast jungles and their surrounding fields. While his camera is often still, capturing the contained drama of his travelling protagonists with hardly any intrusion from the filmmaker, he sometimes deliberately navigates his camera through a wider location, showcasing the fact that the stage of his actions are not limited by the frame of his film. His film feels vaster than what is depicted visually. In a sense, he breaks the illusion of film and keeps his audience repeatedly aware that danger lurks outside his frames.

Mardoquio directs the sequences lyrically. In one beautiful scene where the four travelers take a rest before heading to sea, he has Baba Indu dutifully look for boats for their journey and Faidal, true to his being a child who just found himself in the middle of conflict, take a leisurely swim in the sea. Amrayda and Fatima, fresh from a lover’s quarrel over the harsh realities of their forbidden and impermanent relationship, take the time alone to relish the remnants of their damaged love. Amrayda leaves, allowing Faidal to talk to Fatima, about things that concern most humanity, and not just those endangered by war. They reassure themselves. They have a bagful of money, a new love waiting out there, and a future ahead of themselves. The scene is utterly heartbreaking, summing up the entire conflict in Mindanao within terms that is closer to the heart than the ego.

They nearly reach their Oz, a sea where the horizon is littered with lights emanating from foreigners’ factories and refineries, an indication that they are utterly trapped. They look up. The sky is littered with pale stars and other heavenly objects. Mardoquio conveniently concludes his story with the end of the chase, finally signalling a political stance he has been grooming right from the charged first frame of the film. In the midst of a war that has a national history as its never-ending fuel, there are no wizards, no magic, no steadfast friends, and no easy solutions to abruptly kill the conflict. It is a dreary struggle, where each participant becomes both an unwitting victim and a quiet perpetrator.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Rigodon (2012)

Rigodon (Erik Matti, 2012)

Erik Matti’s Rigodon, unlike the many infidelity films that have plagued local theaters, eschews glamour for grit. Its sex scenes do not have the luscious lighting or the saccharine scoring of the various romantic sequences of its more audience-friendly kin. Instead, the sex is sweaty, raunchy, awkward, and set in either the most ordinary or uncomfortable of locations.

Still reeling from a failed relationship, Sarah (Yam Concepcion) is desperate for a boyfriend who would both please her and her overbearing father. She meets Riki (John James Uy), a reality show contestant who can never seem to convert his erstwhile exposure to bankable fame, in a party. The two hit it off, developing a relationship that sates both Sarah’s needs and Riki’s desire for attention. However, Riki is actually married, to severely domesticated Regine (Max Eigenmann), whose only diversion from mother duties is cupcake-baking.

The plot is hardly novel. It expectedly cautions against the entanglements caused by illicit relationships. Matti, however, does not treat infidelity as the ailment that stains perfect individuals and their perfect relationships. The infidelity in Rigodon is but a symptom of a deeper ill, of the gnawing imperfections of the contorted characters Matti concocts for inevitable tragedy.

The characters are all flawed, but never to the point of caricature. They do not beg to be laughed at and ridiculed, but to be pitied, or perhaps loathed. Yet, the characters’ flaws never feel contrived. Their flaws are but repercussions of a society that seems bereft of moral order, one that is sustained by the jaded equity displayed by Angeline Kanapi’s enigmatic and cruel loan shark, whose near-schizophrenic processes with both her clients and her paraplegic father appears to be the philosophy of the world the film is set in.

The eroticism that is unabashedly displayed in Rigodon, while admittedly a product of capitalistic forces, is not treated carelessly. It is laced with the baggage of guilt and discomfort that are evoked by the characters’ acts of sexual folly and their disastrous repercussions. Its ending, a masterfully crafted long take that exposes the fresh wounds of an embattled relationship from both the perspective of the impulsively vengeful wife and the belatedly apologetic husband, sums up the degree of maturity Matti decides to tackle the dangerously commercialized theme of infidelity with.

(Cross-published in Twitch.)