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)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Much Ado About Ploning

Last Sunday I watched Ploning, a Panoramanila Pictures Co. production starring Judy Ann Santos and directed by Dante Garcia. In the interest of full disclosure let me state that I personally know the producers, writers and director of the film. I was also personally invited to attend the premiere (I couldn’t, I had work that time). I must admit that given the people in front and behind the camera, I had fairly high expectations for this film.

Cuyo, Palawan is the setting for the movie. It is one of those ideal, postcard-pretty provinces where everywhere you aim a camera is picture-perfect. It is also an idyllic location, where Time itself slows down. Pity that the pace of the movie mimicked the pace of Cuyo life. It also didn’t help that the ping-ponging back and forth of the movie only chopped the movie into a staccato “plodding—curious—plodding—slowly picking-up—plodding—where is this movie going?—plodding” pace. Chop off an hour and you’d still have a movie.

Although it’s an indie film, its cast is impressive even by commercial movie standards. Young and old heavy weight performers appear in and out of every scene. But why is it that two of the most crucial roles went to amateurs? Cedric Amit (Digo) is a child actor whose onscreen presence is natural and sadly dull for most parts. And that is echoed in the flat facial expression of Bodjong Fernandez (Muo Sei). Is it because their characters are linked in more ways than one?

I found it difficult to connect with the movie. It was stunning to look at, like the scenery, but there was no resonance. It didn’t help that the titular character (Judy Ann Santos in one of her most restrained and subtle performances) is, well, flat. With her lies the central mystery of the movie (that which also propels Muo Sei’s character) but her main “conflict”, just like her man, remained distant, even from the audience.

For me the Filipino subtitles were a difficulty that added another layer to the movie being distant.

Only two moments pierced through and affected me. One was when Ploning overheard her father’s (played by Tony Mabesa) words of forgiveness. The other was a stunning wordless performance by Ronnie Lazaro; his screen appearance was less than three minutes, but he managed to convey all the pain and guilt and love of a brother who thought he lost his sibling. Give the guy the Judi-Dench-in-“Shakespeare-In-Love” award!

In the end when the mysteries unfold one by one, the pay-off is muted. Which I guess is as it should be. Given the locale and the characters, it’s clear that these people have no huge dramatic arches in their lives, no earth-shattering conflicts, no Shakespearean tragedy. Simple lives lead to simple conflicts and simple resolutions. Had the movie been simpler (without all the huffing and puffing back-and-forth through time) then its scale would match its theme. As it is, it’s much ado about not-much-thing.

* * * * *

But having said that, I would still recommend that you guys rush to the nearest SM Cinema where Ploning is showing. Why? Because despite of everything I said, the movie is still beautiful to behold. What’s even more beautiful is the sight of filmmakers putting their necks out for a passion project. We need more risk-takers.

Also, please support our indie film makers. I believe that our film industry’s hope lies with them. Let us encourage more indie films by watching indie films.


Guia Gonzales said...

Whew! Had to hold my breath til the last line... Hehe.

Salamat for the very candid review, Joel!

For your site visitors : PLONING is currently showing in selected SM Cinemas (nationwide), Robinson's Galleria / Ermita / Metro East, Sta. Lucia malls, Ever Gotesco Malls and various provincial cinemas.

Amblig! (Take care!)


joelmcvie said...

@GUIA: Alam mo naman, candidness is next to godliness. =)

I also had a frank discussion with BJ about it. All in all, this is still waaay better than, say, "Supahpapalicious"! CHOZ. =)