Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Three Films in Two Days

Because I had work/life imbalance this past couple of weeks, I purposely went out of my way to watch three local movies, two in Robinson’s Galleria and one in Glorietta.

Ang Lihim Ni Antonio is about the sexual awakening of a 15-year old guy who discovers he’s attracted to other guys. The movie is fairly well made with kudos in acting, production design and cinematography. Over-all direction is also competent. What also made me hooked the whole time is the fact that the movie is set and shot entirely in Marikina, my home city. The locale/milieu plays an integral part in the movie, and it’s refreshing to see familiar places from a different perspective.

The script treads a familiar storyline—the coming-of-age/coming out story—but to be fair, there were certain scenes that brilliantly capture the confusion and awkwardness of that uncertain stage. And it was quite daring to show graphic sex scenes especially since the character/s involved are minors (which leads me to suspect that the actors are just playing characters much younger than their real age, otherwise… paging DOLE!)

Two quibbles I have with this movie. First, I could see plot points coming from a mile away. Maybe it’s just me; maybe I’ve seen too many movies for my own good. But when the mom talked about rape, I just knew. When the kumare told Antonio’s mom about catching her husband and his mistress in flagrante delicto and she cried, “I should have stabbed them to death!”, I just knew. It’s as if the movie itself had built-in spoilers. Well, maybe they’re spoilers only for oldies like me who’ve seen too many movies. The other quibble is the tragic bloody ending. Yes, yes, yes, it happens. But, but, but! Sigh, why do most gay-themed movies end up with blood spilled? Our stories aren’t all tragic, you know.

Selda stars Ara Mina (who also produced the film), Emilio Garcia and the yummilicious Sid Lucero. Odyssey Flores’ excellent cinematography here is further proof that he is an award-winning director of photography. Over-all the acting of the three leads are better than average; even Ara gets to go beyond her comfort zone. She plays the wife of Sid, who is incarcerated for accidentally killing a minor. While in prison he meets Emilio, who takes on a liking for him; something happens between the two. Several years later, Emilio seeks out Sid who’s now living a simple life in the fields with his wife and daughter. Emilio stays with the family, and this leads to a tragic ending.

The movie can be divided into two: the prison scenes and the farm scenes. It’s a brilliant contrast, a claustrophobic and brutal first part versus a wide-open, idyllic setting for the second act. I also gather that it’s the filmmakers’ intention to depict being inside a provincial prison versus being trapped in a personal prison—a prison of the mind, of the heart. The first part I have no problem; it’s the second part that I found iffy.

The events that lead to the tragic ending are triggered by Sid’s discomfort at having Emilio around. “May asawa ako, may anak, at may—” then an awkward pause; that is his fumbling attempt at making sense of the situation. What got me puzzled is: why was Sid so bothered with Emilio’s presence? Is Sid really happier that Emilio was there? Is he terrified and bothered that he’s falling (or has already fallen) for Emilio? Here the film is silent, asking the audience to just infer. But given what was shown, I had a hard time figuring out Sid’s motivations in the second part of the movie. Nowhere did the filmmakers show or imply clearly that the two guys had another go at brokebacking; if Sid’s attraction to Emilio is more emotional than sexual, then what’s the big deal? The presence of the dead boy’s spirit only confuses me further regarding Sid’s feelings: are they of attraction or of guilt? Or both? I don’t mind double motivations but I wish that was made clearer. That’s why I thought the ending was too extreme, its Shakespearean tragedy out of proportion to the conflict at hand. But again, just like in Lihim, it could be just me.

Endo stars Jason Abalos and Ina Feleo, two contractual workers who jump from job to job; the former also from one girlfriend to the next. The movie is one of the better indie films I’ve seen recently. Sure, it can stand a bit of trimming and tightening. Director Jade Castro charts with sureness and finesse the trajectory of Jason and Ina’s love story, from awkward beginning to deepening realization and maturity in the end. Also laudable is his juggling of the subplots involving Jason’s family and friends.

Much has been said about the performances of the actors and actresses who populate the film. Ina in fact won Cinemalaya’s best actress award. While I do agree that she is an exceptional talent, I was bothered more than once by some slight slips in her speech pattern. At times I could hear the voice of someone who studied in an exclusive school and took ballet lessons. Am I being unfair to her? To be honest, I could be; it doesn’t help that I know her to be the daughter of Laurice Guillen and Johnny Delgado, and those slips only remind me while I was watching her. But again it looks like my problem; other viewers may have an easier time accepting her character.

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Here’s one request I have to future indie filmmakers: I know budgets are tight, but can you guys invest on a tripod? “Indie” doesn’t automatically equal “handheld”; see Selda. I can understand how a handheld look adds to cinéma vérité, but more and more it’s quickly becoming a fall-back style instead of an integral creative decision. And in several instances it calls too much attention to itself. Please draw me into the action; do not just jiggle it in front of me.

The smaller the video cameras, the easier they are to carry but the more jiggle we get. If we can’t make cameras heavier again, can we at least make them steadier?

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Do try and catch the three movies, either at Galleria or at Glorietta. Or if you miss them onscreen, catch them when they come out on DVD (please buy the original!). Despite my quibbles, these movies are great proof that Philippine cinema isn’t dead, it’s gone indie.


gibbs cadiz said...

haha, nagmental telepathy ba tayo that we posted nearly the same stuff on the same day pa? eerie! :)

Anonymous said...

Gusto kong regaluhan si Antonio ng computer.

Isa siyang kahangahangang anak.

Ang ganda ng pakikipagkaibigan niya kay Mike.

Sana may makilalala akong tulad ni Antonio.

Staque said...

Selda is a well crafted film. But I felt uncomfortable with the characters. I wish I could empathize with Rommel but I could not. He character is weak inviting tragedy. It started with the accidental death of the snatcher which was not even his item leading to his conviction and acquaintance with Esteban. In prison, never have I seen him act on his own. Someone had to intervene for him. The only time he did was on the eve of his release where he triggering to a series of more tragic encounters. At the farm, he showed his weakness in his confusion. The ultimate tragedy for me was his relationship with Sita. As portrayed, it did not suggest any depth at all. I wish too that I could root for Esteban but am too scared of him. Inside the prison, Rommel should have reciprocated the importance of Warden Ramos and Mang Soliman. They were two real and strong characters who embodied compassion. But Rommel did not. He even had a role in their deaths.

Sa pagkakaibigan pa rin ako nina Antonio at ni Mike.