Philippine cinema's dark beauty
Nora Aunor is arguably Philippine cinema's greatest actress.
Always thought David Cronenberg had a gift for granting the people in his films at times obvious at times cheesy often memorable names-- Seth Brundle; Stathis Borans; Murray Cypher; Nola Carveth; Max Renn; Brian O'Blivion. Even his more realistic films (A History of Violence) feature the odd evocative moniker-- Tom Stall-- and he continues to indulge the quirk in his latest Crimes of the Future: Saul Tenser (has Cronenberg read The Demolished Man?); Detective Cope; Investigator Wippet; Caprice.
O and don't let the marketing campaign mislead you: this isn't Cronenberg's long-awaited return to full-on body horror but his sexiest funniest film to date.
(Warning: plot and narrative twists discussed in explicit detail)
Watching Andrez Zulawski's Possession (1981) again I was struck not so much by the violence and bodily fluids being flung about as I was by the feelings being wielded like so much casual cutlery. When it comes to extreme horror the film has been sadly left behind by more recent arthouse efforts such as Lars Von Trier's Antichrist or (for sheer masochistic suffering) Pascal Laugier's Martyrs-- 'sadly' not because this film should stay top of the heap but because the genre has chosen to go in this rather fruitless direction, to the point of numbness.
Last year there was a small yet significant spurt of worthwhile Filipino films. The mini-renaissance began in earnest (though many would disagree with me) with Tikoy Aguiluz’s Tatsulok, in 1998; it came into full bloom with the Good Harvest Festival, which featured no less than four exciting new films.
There was Ed Leano’s fizzily entertaining Sabado Ng Gabi, Linggo Ng Umaga. (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning-- and yes the title does sound like the Tagalog translation of a well-known film, not the first time it's happened); Jeffrey Jeturian’s solidly constructed Sana Pag-Ibig Na (rough translation: If Only Love), script by Armando Lao; Lav Diaz’s flawed but brilliant Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion. (Criminal of Barrio Concepcion); Mario O’Hara's inspired Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof) and insanely imaginative Sisa.
Then nothing. Not a peep, though there were bigger, more ambitious productions: Joel Lamangan’s Sidhi was noteworthy for the performance of Nora Aunor and for Glydel Mercado’s surprisingly fine acting; Erik Matti’s Scorpio Nights 2 showed a talented young director struggling with an incoherent script. Otherwise, silence-- the local film industry, after displaying much promise, slumbered for most of the first half of this year.
Pila Balde finally if belatedly fulfills that earlier promise. It’s another collaboration between Jeturian and the quietly formidable Armando Lao--who, judging from his last two scripts and the amazing Takaw Tukso back in 1986, has to be one of the most underrated screenwriters still active in this industry.
Tikoy Aguiluz, who illuminated the world of toreros in Boatman, painted a portrait of the GRO girl in Segurista (Dead Sure), explores Manila's gambling casinos and railway communities in Biyaheng Langit.
The film was given an X rating twice by the Movie Television and Classification Board (MTRCB) for its frank sex and explicit violence, both of which have been described as “gratuitous.” Wouldn't know what “gratuitous” sex and violence looks like myself, but I do feel that if Aguiluz is to portray the heaven and hell of modern Philippine society with any sense of realism, he has to be free to show what needs to be shown. Also don’t believe in giving an X rating to any film, especially when this prevents the film’s commercial screening; it suggests the rather insulting idea that there are some images or subjects the adult Filipino can’t handle.
A new Benedict Cumberbatch! (he was better in The Power of the Dog)
A new Marvel superproduction! (as if that was a recommendation)
A new Sam Raimi!
A few weeks ago with little advance publicity, the Goethe Institute arranged the screening of Lotte Reiniger's films for two weeks-- free-- at the Metropolitan Museum, in Roxas Boulevard. Think of the best of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies and his feature masterpiece (Fantasia, says many, Pinocchio says I*) being shown regularly for ten succeeding days without charge, and you won't even come close to suggesting the cinematic riches made available to us, almost without our knowing (I barely managed to catch the last screening myself). Hopefully they will allow one more screening, at the Goethe Institute in Aurora Boulevard.
*(Nowadays I'd say Sleeping Beauty)