Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cinema of the Philippines, Part I

Asian Spotlight, Filipino Films

Two years I had not seen a single film from the Philippines. Then at VIFF 2006, I came across Jeffrey Jeturian's Kubrador (The Bet Collector) and was left in awe. Kubrador, shot on digital camera, followed the lead character Amy (played by Gina Pareño) as she went around a shanty town slum collecting money from her neighborhood to place on a local numbers game (Jeuteng). We watch Amy move from street to street, gossiping along the way, and honestly talking people out of their hard earned money. The people Amy hits for money are already poor and winning the Jeuteng lottery is their ticket to a better life. I enjoyed the verite style and liked how the camera invited us to spend some time in Amy's life. Also at VIFF 2006, John Torres won the Dragons and Tiger Award for his debut feature Todo Todo Teros, a film that I saw shortly after VIFF. Torres' film was an interesting blend of video journal, fiction, documentary, improvised dialogue and poetry.

I was looking forward to seeing some Filipino films at VIFF 2007 and I was not disappointed -- I loved Brillante Mendoza's two films Slingshot & Foster Child. But I was still woefully shy of knowing much about Filipino cinema and had not gotten anywhere near a list of some well known films.

Part I features 4 titles:

  • A good personal starting point for a Filipino spotlight had to be with the earlier films of Brillante Mendoza. And luckily I managed to find his first two features Masahista (The Masseur) and Kaleldo (Summer Heat).

  • Macho Dancer -- I wanted to pick a film by a Lino Brocka, a film-maker I had read about quite a bit but not seen anything from until last week. Interestingly last week, Mendoza's new film Serbis was selected in the Cannes 2008 competition category. The last time a Filipino film was selected for the Cannes competition was one by Lino Brocka.

  • Naglalayag (The Silent Passage) directed by Maryo J. De los Reyes

  • Earning a living in the dark:

    It turns out that Mendoza's The Masseur & Brocka's Macho Dancer form an appropriate double bill as both are about men who leave their small town and head to the city where they sell their bodies to earn a living. In The Masseur, the lead character has to leave his home to work in a massage parlour while the main character in Macho Dancer works in a nightclub, pleasuring men and dancing his way to their hearts. Both films show a slice of the harsh reality in the Philippines but differ in their technique and intention -- The Masseur splices scenes from the character's present with his past and draws parallels between sexuality and certain rituals (funeral rites), while Macho Dancer is a linear narrative that is more interested in depicting the story of the main characters.


    In Kaleldo (Summer Heat) Mendoza shows the lives of three sisters and their affairs and relationships. The film is divided into three sections (Wind, Earth and Fire) with each element representing the different personalities of the women. Hot, sultry, emotional and an engaging drama.

    The core story of Naglalayag is about the relationship between an older woman and a young man but the love story is surrounded by topics of class difference, crime and poverty.

    Film (Year, Director): Rating out of 10

    The Masseur (2005, Brillante Mendoza): 6
    Kaleldo (2004, Brillante Mendoza): 8
    Macho Dancer (1988, Lino Brocka): 6.5
    Naglalayag (2004, Maryo J. De los Reyes): 7

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